A little Atlantic green sea turtle now named Petunia owes her life to Robert Moraghan, a retired UPS driver who spotted the endangered juvenile stranded at Towd Point, about five miles north of Southampton, on his very first patrol as a volunteer.
Though Moraghan, 51, found Petunia on Nov. 30, on Monday he was out again, scanning Sag Harbor beaches.
"It was very exciting when I found her, I was like ‘Oh, my gosh,’ I really couldn’t believe it, even though I’m out looking for sea turtles — finding her was really special," he said Friday. "When I heard she was going to be OK, and getting stronger it seems — it's fabulous."
The mild autumn delayed cold-stun season, when hundreds of endangered sea turtles, caught too far north, wash ashore on the East Coast, , often after weeks of drifting, often stricken with pneumonia.
Now recovering at Riverhead's New York Marine Rescue Center, Petunia is the first rescued turtle of the 10 or so found on Long Island since late November that are healthy enough to be named, said director Maxine Montello.
The marine rescue center and the Hampton Bays-based American Marine Conservation Society, both nonprofits, on Friday began rehabilitating 36 sea turtles stranded on Cape Cod beaches that were flown in by volunteers. Anyone who finds a stranded sea turtle should call the hotline at 631-369-9829 for instructions.
When Moraghan spied Petunia it was a frigid 22 degrees.
Petunia’s condition was dire.
"She really had little to no response," neither blinking or moving her flippers.
Now, larger, apparently more cold-tolerant loggerheads are arrving, said Lisa Becker, director of marine wildlife rehabilitation, National Marine Life Center, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts,
"We don’t expect to see many small live animals anymore," she said.
No one knows how many cold-stunned sea turtles never make it to land.
The American Marine Conservation Society in a statement estimated "Between 400 and 900 cold-stunned sea turtles strand both alive and deceased in the Northeast each year. "
So far, it added, strandings have topped 500.
Unlike some wildlife that has come to rely on humans for food, sea turtles appear to forget that link, said Arthur Kennedy, senior biologist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. "It's amazing when you know how interactive they are."