In addition to delighting residents on land, warmer temperatures in November and especially December mean that more sea turtles than usual didn’t get the signal that it was time to head south for the winter.
It also means that stragglers who ordinarily would have washed up deceased on shore in January — stunned by the cold water — are washing up stunned but alive, said Kimberly Durham, rescue program director with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
She said she’s hoping that turtle fans who traditionally walk the beaches from November to January keep up the vigil. The most likely time to spot a cold-stunned turtle on shore is shortly after high tide.
Sea turtles, which are in the threatened or endangered categories, “arrive in New York every year in late June as water temperatures rise,” according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website. “By mid-November, they migrate south in search of warmer waters,” and if not can be stunned by the cold water.
Anyone who comes across such a creature should call the foundation’s hotline, 631-369-9829, right away, whether the turtle is showing signs of life or not, foundation spokeswoman Rachel Bosworth said. That is because seemingly dead turtles can sometimes be revived.
Also, the turtles’ protected status means that anyone not authorized to work with them must not touch them and should keep a good distance, she said.
Last year 35 turtles washed up; this year, so far, 39 — 13 of them alive and now in the foundation’s rehab facilities, she said. They are expected to be released into the warmer waters in July or August, Bosworth said.
Turtles thrive in temperatures of around 70 degrees, with a dip to below 50 leading them to start slowing down, stop eating and functioning efficiently, Durham said.
December’s sea temperatures at a buoy just off Montauk hovered around the 50 degree mark, dipping to 49 and below from Dec. 19 to 24 and then again from Dec. 29 to 30, according to the tides and currents area of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website. Temperatures in December 2014 were mostly 47 and below.