Thousands of cold-stunned turtles rescued from freezing temperatures in Texas nearing release

JULIA JACOBOThu, 18 February 2021, 11:08 pm

Volunteers in Texas are gearing up to release nearly 5,000 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from below zero temperatures amid two historic winter storms.

Sea Turtle Inc., the conservation group responsible for rescuing sea turtles along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, began receiving the turtles as temperatures started to dropped on Saturday, and that number quickly ballooned to about 4,800 by Wednesday, Wendy Knight, CEO of the organization, told ABC News.

MORE: 12 primates die at Texas animal sanctuary after frigid weather causes power failure

While the organization puts plan in place every fall for the possibility of cold-stun events, it was not expecting such dire conditions, Knight said.

“This occasion has been the largest cold-stunning event in recorded history,” she said. “We were not prepared.

PHOTO: People place rescued turtles stunned by cold weather in an evacuation center in South Padre Island, Texas, Feb. 15, 2021. (Ed Caum/City Of South Padre Island via Reuters)
PHOTO: People place rescued turtles stunned by cold weather in an evacuation center in South Padre Island, Texas, Feb. 15, 2021. (Ed Caum/City Of South Padre Island via Reuters)

In extreme cold, turtles experience hypothermia and can no longer move, and most importantly, keep their heads above water. Once the turtles are stunned, it is critical for their survival to remove them from the water, or they will drown, she said.

South Padre Island, Texas, is a nesting and habitat destination for federally protected endangered sea turtles. The conservation of the turtles is established in the local community, which played a large role in rescuing them, Knight said.

MORE: Iguanas are falling from trees in Florida due to cold weather

Once it looked like the region would have below-freezing temperatures, hundreds of volunteers came out with boats and nets to collect them.

“Response is ingrained in the community,” she said, adding that the majority of them did not have heat or water themselves. “It’s what we do.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-7&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1361460058530308096&lang=en-gb&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fuk.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fguide-help-people-texas-suffering-221940863.html&theme=light&widgetsVersion=889aa01%3A1612811843556&width=550px

A normal cold-stunning event will contain 100 to 200 turtles, perhaps 500 in a larger event, Knight said. Once the number hit 525, the organization’s facility was filled, and the remaining turtles had to be transferred to the South Padre Island Convention Centre.

Neither of the facilities had power at first, but the conditions were still much better than had the turtles stayed outdoors, Knight said.

MORE: Iguanas are falling from trees in Florida due to cold weather

As the turtles are introduced to warmer temperatures, they will begin to wake up and behave normally.

“We’ll start seeing them move their flippers, start seeing them raise their head,” Knight said.

PHOTO: A handout photo  showa 141 sea turtles rescued from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays, abroad the PV Murchison, in Texas, Feb. 17, 2021. (Texas Game Warden via Shutterstock)
PHOTO: A handout photo showa 141 sea turtles rescued from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays, abroad the PV Murchison, in Texas, Feb. 17, 2021. (Texas Game Warden via Shutterstock)

The organization will then prepare to release them back into the Gulf of Mexico, she added.

“Things seem to be going our way,” Knight said.

PHOTO: Cold-stunned sea turtles are rescued on a Game Warden vessel in Texas during the plunging temperatures due to the winter storm, Feb. 17, 2021. (Texas Game Wardens via Shutterstock)
PHOTO: Cold-stunned sea turtles are rescued on a Game Warden vessel in Texas during the plunging temperatures due to the winter storm, Feb. 17, 2021. (Texas Game Wardens via Shutterstock)

Power at the convention center was restored Wednesday, while Sea Turtle Inc.’s facility got its power back on Thursday, Knight said.

Other animals in the region have not fared as well amid the storms. Twelve primates at Primarily Primates, a large animal sanctuary in Bexar County, Texas, died after the facility lost power on Monday.

Thousands of cold-stunned turtles rescued from freezing temperatures in Texas nearing release originally appeared on abcnews.go.com