After a chilly winter, a group of sea turtles is scheduled to return home to the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, officials at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation said.
The group of 10 animals -- nine Atlantic Green sea turtles and one Kemp’s ridley turtle -- were recovered by biologists between Nov. 25, 2015 and Jan. 1. All had been reported to the foundation’s stranding hotline and were found on East End beaches. The foundation was alerted to 41 reports of cold stunned turtles in the 2015-2016 winter season with 11 currently in rehabilitation at the foundation’s Riverhead headquarters, officials said.
Cold stunning season runs from October to January. The condition occurs when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees and its effects are similar to hypothermia. Animals become lethargic and stop eating, so they can’t continue to swim toward warmer waters. At Class IV, the most serious level of cold stun, the turtles may even appear dead. A healthy sea turtle’s average body temperature is about 77 degrees, officials said. Officials at the Riverhead Foundation typically house the turtles until the water is sufficiently warm enough for them to thrive.
Foundation officials said they still need approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but the turtles are rehabilitated and ready to return to the ocean. They plan to hold the release on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays.