Sea Turtles Head Back to Sea
February 15, 2019

Sea Turtles Head Back to the Sea

Three sea turtles that have been in rehabilitation since November are finally ready to return to the Atlantic ocean!

The turtles were rescued after they were found stranded along the New England coast. Every year, more than 500 turtles fail to swim back into the warm-water Gulf Stream before the cold weather arrives – and these turtles were no different.

The Gulf Stream’s warm water carries the turtles south for the winter. The turtles that don’t make it to the Gulf Stream are left in quickly cooling waters. Sea turtles are cold blooded and depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Without warm waters, sea turtles develop a condition called cold stunned. They become lethargic, float on top of the water, and do not eat. They often develop pneumonia and various stages of hypothermia.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Second Chance Program nurtures cold stunned turtles and nurses them back to health in the hopes that they can be released back into the ocean.

When cold stunned turtles arrive in Pittsburgh, our veterinary team does a full exam and takes x-rays to determine the degree of pneumonia and any possible injuries. The turtles are given antibiotics to treat the pneumonia and their body temperatures gradually return to normal. The veterinary team performs radiographs and takes blood daily for the first month, and treatments are based on how each turtle is responding.

To be cleared for release, the team verifies that the turtles are swimming strongly, resting comfortably on the bottom of the tank, and eating well.

Our aquarists work closely with Baltimore Aquarium to coordinate turtle releases. The turtles are taken to Florida’s warmer waters, where keepers walk them to the water’s edge and let them go. Some turtles are excited and swim right away while others take a moment to adjust before leaving the shore.

Our Sea Turtle Second Chance Program is always a busy place and we are constantly in need of support to continue this important work. To give to our Sea Turtle Second Chance Program, please click here.