Coast Guard flies 193 rare sea turtles from freezing Cape Cod to Florida
A Coast Guard plane touched down in Orlando at dusk Tuesday, hauling a cargo of the world's rarest sea turtles, rescued by volunteers from the lethally chilly waters and beaches of Cape Cod Bay.
Weighing only 2 to 10 pounds, the young Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are among the first of an astounding wave of the reptiles to succumb to hypothermia in the "bucket" of the Massachusetts bay.
"They're so small," said Alyssa Hancock, a SeaWorld Orlando aquarium worker, peering into one of 101 banana boxes holding 193 turtles.
Turtle rescues happen every year in late fall in the Northeast, but for reasons not yet known what's happening this year is "epic," said one of the nearly two dozen volunteers passing boxes of turtles like a bucket brigade.
"Statistically, I feel like we are out on Pluto," said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium's marine-animal hospital in Quincy, Mass., who fears the number of cold-stunned turtles could quadruple.
"We've been rescuing sea turtles for 25 years, and we are just absolutely shocked," LaCasse said.
Among possible explanation for the huge spike in turtle rescues – the record of 242 in 2012 has been eclipsed already this year by more than 400 rescues – is that the number of highly endangered Kemp's ridleys has been increasing slightly in recent years.