Long Island's first "cold-stunned" turtle of the season washed ashore in East Hampton Sunday, prompting a marine rescue organization to ask beachcombers to watch for the threatened reptiles.
The foot-long Atlantic green sea turtle, weighing 4 pounds and estimated to be about 2 years old, died despite efforts to raise the turtle's temperature gradually, said Kimberly Durham, rescue program director of the Riverhead Foundation.
A man found the turtle while walking near Napeague in East Hampton about 9:30 a.m., along the high tide line near Gardiners Bay, Durham said. He called the Riverhead Foundation and took the turtle home, keeping it outside, Durham said.
"Cold stunning" refers to the hypothermic reaction when sea turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Initial symptoms include decreased heart rate and circulation, and lethargy.
Turtles can wash ashore and appear dead when they encounter frigid water temperatures, Durham said, but can be revived. "They're amazing animals," she said.
Durham said the turtle found Sunday washed ashore about 3 a.m., given high tide times, and was on the beach for too long to survive.
She said every year around mid-November, cold-stunned green sea turtles, which are threatened, wash up on Long Island beaches. So do Kemp's ridley sea turtles and loggerhead turtles, both of which are endangered. By this time of year, most of the turtles have migrated to warmer waters and scientists don't totally understand why some stay behind.
Last year about a dozen turtles washed ashore. Two years ago, there were more than 30, she said.
"Every year we prepare for the worst," she said.
Durham said the man who found the turtle treated the animal correctly -- he did not put it back in the water or try to warm it up himself. Instead, the Riverhead Foundation slowly raised its body temperatures.
"If you start warming it up too quickly or without addressing fluids, it could go into shock," she said.
She also warned that people should transport turtles in their vehicle trunks, to avoid the interior of their car's heat. The group has been running free lectures on cold-stunned turtles to raise awareness. The foundation's hotline is 631-369-9829.