NEFSC home » Newsroom »
December 4, 2018
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

NOAA Flight Has Unusual Passengers

Stranded Turtles Flown South

Twelve Kemp's ridley sea turtles that had been cold-stunned and found on Cape Cod beaches in recent weeks were loaded onto a NOAA aircraft early Friday, November 30, at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod for a flight to Georgia, where they will be released into warmer waters.

Kemp's ridley turtles are among the smallest marine turtles in the world and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The animals are among many turtles that have been cold-stunned, a kind of hypothermia, when local water temperatures suddenly drop. They come ashore on Cape Cod beaches, an annual event that occurs as early as October. Once found, the turtles are taken to the New England Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, Massachusetts for evaluation and care there, or sent to regional facilities for continued care until they are considered well enough to be released back into the wild.

These 12 turtles were ready to be released by the Aquarium. Allison Ferreira and Jennifer Goebel from NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester picked them up at the New England Aquarium facility in Quincy about 5:30 a.m and brought them to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod in Bourne, Massachusetts. A NOAA Twin Otter, normally used for right whale aerial surveys by researchers at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC)'s laboratory in nearby Woods Hole was making a trip south for a safety conference and the pilots offered to take the animals.

The flight stopped briefly in Newport News, Virginia to pick up one or two loggerhead sea turtles that have been under care at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and are also ready for release back to the wild, then flew on to Saint Simon's Island in Georgia, where the turtles will be released into warmer waters. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is located on nearby Jekyll Island. The Twin Otter will return in about a week to the Coast Guard Air Station and resume the NEFSC's winter aerial survey flights into January.

Christin Khan of the NEFSC's Protected Species Branch, who frequently flies on the Twin Otter for the right whale aerial surveys, helped get the aircraft ready for its new passengers and helped load the animals onto the aircraft. She did not make the trip - just pilots Jason Clark and David Reymore and the 12 turtles in banana boxes covered with towels to keep them warm and calm! Also on hand was Coast Guard Air Station Airport Manager Anthony Hylinski, who helped load the animals very quickly from a warm minivan to the warmed up aircraft for the flight south.

The Twin Otter was in the air before 9 a.m. headed south. Thanks to all who helped get the turtles back into warmer waters!