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More than 100 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod beaches

Most of the sea turtles hitch a ride on warm water currents down to Florida for the winter. But some get left behind.

By Brooks Hays
Rescued turtles rest in cardboard boxes. Photo by Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Rescued turtles rest in cardboard boxes. Photo by Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

WELLFLEET, Mass., Dec. 21 (UPI) -- It's become an annual tradition for marine biologists and wildlife volunteers along the Massachusetts coast. Every year with the arrival of the holiday season, dozens of "cold-shocked" sea turtles must be rescued from the shores of Cape Cod.

Over the weekend, rescuers saved a total 120 sea turtles from Cape Cod beaches. According to CapeCod.com, the strandings all occurred within a span of 12 hours. Volunteers with Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary found 60 percent of the turtles still alive.

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"It's normally way less than that at this time of year," Bob Prescott, a spokesman with the sanctuary, told the Boston Globe.

Prescott said his volunteers are "very, very fussy about rescuing any turtle with a spark of life."

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More than 200 had already been saved this year, ever since lost and weary turtles began washing ashore in November. Last year, caretakers rehabilitated a record 1,200 turtles.

The turtles being rescued -- most of them Kemp's ridley turtles, a critically endangered species -- are those left behind by their peers, caught in the choppy, chilly waters of the Cape Cod Bay. After feeding in the waters all summer, most of the sea turtles hitch a ride on warm water currents down to Florida for the winter. But some get lost and disoriented, trapped up north as the temperatures drop.

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Researchers believe this year's warmer than average air and water temperatures are the reason why there have been fewer strandings -- and why more of the stranded turtles are being found still alive.

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All of the turtles rescued over the weekend are now resting and getting warm in their own personal towel-lined cardboard boxes. They'll receive medical care and rehabilitation at the New England Aquarium's animal care facility before being transported to Florida for release.

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