Winter is Officially Here & We Have a Full House!

From left, Educator Caitlin Bovery, and volunteers Steve Fowler and Nicole Kamper weigh the new sea turtle patients. Teresa Shumaker photos.

From left, Educator Caitlin Bovery, and volunteers Steve Fowler and Nicole Kamper weigh the new sea turtle patients. Teresa Shumaker photos.

By Teresa Shumaker

During the winter when the bay's water temps quickly drop below 55 degrees, many sea turtles can suffer from a form of hypothermia called "cold-stunning." On Friday, Nov. 14, Texas Parks and Wildlife found about 40 turtles in the bay that had cold-stunned. Since then, more sea turtles have been found and our total is nearing 70.
If you see a sea turtle on the shore or in the water but not swimming, it could be cold-stunned.
Do not touch the turtle, and call us at 956-761-4511. We have staff ready to respond!

What is cold-stunning?

When fast moving cold fronts cause the temperature to drop suddenly, the water temperature in the shallow Laguna Madre will drop fast, too. Any turtles that are in the bay when that happens can become hypothermic.
The Gulf of Mexico's water temp does not drop as fast and if the sea turtles make it out to the gulf, they should have no problems.

How to help

If you see a cold-stunned sea turtle, please do not touch it or try to warm it yourself. These animals are protected and you must have a permit to assist them. Plus, warming a sea turtle too fast can put it in shock. The best way to help these turtles is to call us immediately!
Here is a google map of areas that cold-stunned turtles have stranded in the past. If you are in these areas, please keep an eye out.  https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zhCdKTL74W6E.kq523oJ2vjM8

Past winters

There have been some peaks in winters past when we have received hundreds of cold-stun sea turtles at one time. One especially cold season in 2011 when hundreds of turtles needed help, the Coastal Lab, the Gladys Porter Zoo, Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, and the Texas State Aquarium helped us by sheltering some of the turtles because we did not have enough room at our facility.

Cold-stun care

When the cold-stun sea turtles arrive at our facility, we take their temperature, weight and measurements, and put a temporary ID tag on a front flipper. Then, they are placed in shallow tanks without water to gradually warm up. We do not put them in water, because they need to increase their temperature slowly.
It generally takes around 48 hours for them to regain their normal  body temperature. Once they do, they “wake-up” and start moving around.
When they reach this stage, we move them to the outside tanks, where they will stay under our care until a set of warm days arrives, so we can release them.
When they are ready to go back to the wild, they will be released on the ocean side of the island, where the water stays more temperate than the shallow Laguna Madre.
Helping these turtles make it through the cold snaps is a community effort. We could not assist as many turtles without so many people being vigilant and alerting us to turtles in need. If you are out on the Laguna Madre, please keep an eye out for cold-stun sea turtles!
And if you see any that are acting sluggish, floating, are very still, or washed ashore, please call 956-761-4511 to let us know immediately. The turtles greatly appreciate it!!
Vet Tech Brian Thurow holds the first cold-stun sea turtle of winter 2014/2015. Teresa Shumaker photo.

Vet Tech Brian Thurow holds the first cold-stun sea turtle of winter 2014/2015. Teresa Shumaker photo.

Sea turtles await transportation to Sea Turtle, Inc. Teresa Shumaker photo.

Sea turtles await transportation to Sea Turtle, Inc. Teresa Shumaker photo.