Jean Beasley had already named the first batch of cold-stunned turtles before they arrived at the Karen Beasley Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Sunday evening.
She and her volunteers received nine turtles — all named in a Harry Potter theme — as a result of the beginning of this year’s cold season. Some of the names included Hogwart, Dumbledore, Muggle, Molly, and Weasley.
By the end of last year’s winter, volunteers had taken in 92 cold-stunned turtles and at least one is still recovering.
With the dropping of temperatures comes the inevitable impact it has on marine wildlife.
Most turtles begin to migrate to where it’s warmer as the ocean gets colder. But some don’t move out in time.
“There can be very severe consequences (to cold stunning),” Jean Beasley, director, said. “First of all, the longer they are exposed to extreme cold, the more serious the damage is.”
The turtles arrived in banana boxes, layered in towels to protect their limbs. As the turtles were lifted out of the boxes and carried into their recovery room, there was a distinct slapping sound from them hitting their fins against volunteers’ grasps.
In the early stages, these turtles go into a suspended state, meaning they float instead of moving around on their own. Often times, it can look like they’re already dead, but Beasley warned the community to not assume a turtle is dead just because it’s not moving.
“If it was 20 degrees, you could pile any blanket in the world on them and they’d still get down to 20 degrees,” she said, adding that their skin is subject to frostbite just like a human’s. “Some of the worst cases that we’ve had is where their carapace, or their top part of their shell, if they’re floating in the water, if the temperature of the air is warmer than the water, their carapace bone can actually freeze.”
A frozen carapace bone can take up to two year to recover from, she added.
Most turtles, Beasley said, stun with their eyes open — subjecting them further to damage not only from the cold, but from predators like seagulls.
Since the longer they are exposed, the more damage is done, Beasley requested the community keep an eye out for beached turtles or ones floating in the water or near docks. Human instinct may say to warm a cold-stunned turtle immediately, however, Beasley said it only does more damage warming them up so quickly.
“They cannot take (the turtles) directly into a hot space,” she said. “They need to put them into a protected area, like a carport or an unheated garage or basement and then call either emergency hotline number or our number.”
To report a cold-stunned turtle, call the Sea Turtle Hospital at 910-329-0222 or the Wildlife Resources Commission’s sea turtle emergency hotline number at 252-241-7367.
There are other ways to help, including volunteering or donating money to the cause. There are volunteer forms available for pick up, including which jobs are available, at the Sea Turtle Hospital. The community can also send checks addressed to Sea Turtle Hospital to P.O. Box 2095 Surf City, NC 28445.
The turtles that arrived Sunday evening will be available for viewing during the hospital’s regular hours.
Although this is only the beginning of the Sea Turtle Hospital’s season, the volunteers were eager to care for the creatures. How long it takes these turtles to recover is yet to be seen.
“It is important to remember that they are cold blooded so they heal slower. They heal well, but they heal slower,” Jean Beasley said.