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Rare turtle found on Wades Beach and saved: A curious pooch triggers a rescue

Hilary McDonald was walking on Wades Beach one morning last week when her dog, Tabitha, running ahead, began sniffing at what Ms. McDonald took to be a mound of sand.

Tabitha’s curiosity began a rescue mission that saved one of the ocean’s most endangered species.

“When I got closer I saw it was a turtle,” Ms. McDonald said. “It wasn’t moving, and I thought it was dead.”

She had planned to meet with her friend, Tracy McCarthy, and when she arrived they both crouched down to get a closer look at the large, immobile turtle. When Ms. McCarthy touched the top of its head, Ms. McDonald said, “I think it’s moving.”

They immediately phoned Shelter Island Animal Control Officer Jenny Zahler, who knew this was no ordinary turtle, but a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, one of the smallest sea turtles, but one that can weigh as much as 100 pounds, and are found from Florida to New England. It’s also one of the most endangered species in the sea, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Officer Zahler quickly determined that the turtle was “cold stunned,” which, as Reporter writer Cindy Belt has written, means that “occasionally turtles get trapped by rapidly chilling waters. ‘Cold stunning’ occurs when a dramatic decrease in water temperatures makes it impossible for these cold-blooded animals to swim effectively and migrate to warmer water. Without proper intervention, a cold stunned sea turtle will inevitably die of exposure and hypothermia.”

Officer Zahler transported the turtle to the New York Marine Rescue Center at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.

The Shelter Island turtle had company, with more than two dozen other cold-stunned turtles receiving treatment, according to New York City’s NBC affiliate. Field biologist and Director of the Rescue Program Maxine Montello said that, because of global warming, turtles are becoming confused by changing weather patterns. They remain in northern climes longer in the fall because of warmer waters, delaying their migration south, and when the water suddenly turns colder, it’s too late.

The NBC report said it can take up to nine months for a turtle to recover fully and the cost can run into the thousands of dollars. Here’s a link to the station’s story: nbcnewyork.com/news/local/2-dozen-cold-stoned-sea-turtles-on-long-island/3445144/

Officer Zahler said that if you come upon any animal in distress or is unresponisve, call 631-749-5771 or email [email protected].

Ms. McDonald said it was an exciting and rewarding morning’s walk, which resulted in saving one of the world’s creatures from a premature death on Wades Beach.