Four species of sea turtle can be found in New England waters: green, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley. Most turtles head south before the weather turns, but most years some stragglers are “cold stunned” when water temperatures fall in October or November. These turtles sometimes wash ashore on Cape beaches where they die if they are not rescued and transported to a facility where they can be treated for problems such as skeletal and shell injuries, frost bite, pneumonia, or internal injuries.
The turtles get critical care at larger aquariums or facilities dedicated to turtle conservation. The WHSA provides follow-up care for turtles that need time to recover from their stranding. We usually release our turtles in August, nine months after they strand. The WHSA does not keep turtles for display.
Since the WHSA began turtle rehabilitation in the 1990s, we helped care for 28 turtles: 14 Kemp’s ridleys, three greens, four loggerheads, seven diamondback terrapins.
The WHSA turtles receive regular veterinary care and are sometimes transported to the Tufts University vet hospital for CAT scans. The turtles get much of their day-to-day care from WHSA volunteers. When the turtles have regained full health and the New England waters are at their warmest, the staff tags the turtles and releases them on local beaches. Some years the turtles are released with satellite tags – these animals can be tracked at www.seaturtle.org
All marine turtles in New England waters are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Kemp’s ridleys are considered “endangered” and loggerheads and green turtles are “threatened.” Diamondback terrapins are not marine turtles; they are coastal animals that live in marshes and estuaries. They are considered “threatened” under Massachusetts law.