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Rescued Sea Turtles Fly South

On the morning of January 7, 2016, a Coast Guard Auxiliary flight crew from the 1st District Southern Region flew 24 endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles to Orlando, Florida, where they will undergo further treatment and rehabiltation at Sea World Orlando before eventually being returned to the ocean. The plane took off from Marshfield Airport at approximately 8:30 am, stopped in Elizabeth City, NC to refuel, and landed in Orlando around 5 pm.

Aquarium volunteer removes turtle from pool
Travel is dehydrating, so the turtles get fluids prior to travel.
Turtles are packed two per banana box, when possible. It's a small plane.


These dinner-plate sized turtles enter northeast bays and coastal waters in the summer. Some appear to stay too long into the fall, and those in Cape Cod Bay are blocked from warmer waters offshore and south by the arm of the Cape. As the water cools further, these cold-blooded reptiles experience a hypothermic reaction to the cold water temperatures; they have slow breathing and heart rates, are lethargic, thin, and often sick with pneumonia.

Since late fall, volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have collected more than 500 sea turtles, the second highest cold-stun season in Massachusetts ever. While most were Kemp's ridleys, several green sea turtles and larger loggerhead sea turtles also stranded. With such a large influx of patients, the New England Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, MA, was running out of space to treat and rehabilitate the ailing turtles.

Wrapped in towels with a warming device, turtles are ready to travel.

NOAA's Kate Sampson and New England Aquarium's Connie Merigo discussing flight details with pilot.

Coast Guard Auxiliary pilots Steve Trupkin and copilot/plane owner Peter Lombardo.


"We are very grateful to the Coast Guard Auxiliary for providing the plane and pilots," said Kate Sampson, NOAA Fisheries sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator for the Greater Atlantic Region. "The success of our sea turtle rescue efforts is a testament to the generosity and hard work of so many people. It takes a whole community to pull this off."

Yesterday's flight is one of several transports, and more are planned in the coming weeks. 


Farewell, turtles, and good luck!