By Daniel Lovering
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Endangered sea turtles are becoming stranded on Massachusetts' Cape Cod shores so frequently that they are on track to break records and wildlife conservation workers scrambled on Friday to cope with the influx.
In the past four days, some 67 sea turtles suffering from hypothermia have been brought to the New England Aquarium's Animal Care Center care facility near Boston, said aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse. They are among 120 sea turtles who arrived since early November.
Turtle strandings in Cape Cod Bay typically begin in November during the annual winter migration back to the Gulf of Mexico, LaCasse said. In early summer, the reptiles will migrate back up the eastern seaboard to forage for crab, he said.
The sea turtles are washed ashore by high winds and tides in the large, shallow bay because they are unable to find their way around the hooked tip of Cape Cod to swim south for the winter, he said. As the water temperature falls, they get stunned by the cold, become weak and float on the surface.
"It essentially creates a deadly bucket," LaCasse said. "We don't know of it happening anywhere else in the world on this scale."
As many as 144 sea turtles have been rescued in past so-called stranding seasons, which could last until the third week of December, LaCasse said.
Usually most sea turtles that get stranded are juvenile Kemp's ridleys but this year, LaCasse said, they include some 50-100 pound (23-45 kg) huskier loggerheads as well as green sea turtles. All of the turtles are designated as endangered or threatened species.
The aquarium's Animal Care Center has exceeded its capacity for about 100 turtles, so biologists, nonprofit rescue groups and volunteer pilots on Friday were transporting some of them to other aquariums and rescue centers along the East Coast.
Six loggerheads were driven to the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, eight Kemp's ridleys taken to the National Marine Life Center on Cape Cod and four were flown to a facility in Virginia, LaCasse said.
On Monday, four loggerheads will be flown on a corporate jet to facilities in Maryland and Georgia, he added.
During the rehabilitation process, he said, the turtles are "re-warmed" slowly over a period of days until they regain their strength and can be released into the wild.
LaCasse said the aquarium had not yet reached an annual record for stranded turtles, but it was "getting pretty close."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)