The cold is having a strong effect on hundreds of animals across the state, Mote Marine Laboratory said in a press release Tuesday, and several turtles in the organization's care have died.
Mote is now treating 13 cold-stunned sea turtles, with others likely to arrive throughout the week. Mote began receiving cold-stunned turtles last Thursday evening. Four of the initial arrivals had to be euthanized and seven died over the weekend.
Mote is currently treating five green turtles from the Titusville area and six green turtles from Sarasota Bay. A 12th green turtle came in from Charlotte Harbor and the 13th turtle is a loggerhead from Sarasota Bay. All of the turtles are now in water, with the water temperature slowly being raised. The turtles are receiving supportive care and are being offered food.
Sea turtles, which are reptiles, become lethargic and their internal organs and bodily functions can be hindered or shut down altogether when water temperatures drop low enough.
Mote's efforts to rehab turtles include a focus on treating cold-stunned sea turtles that are also afflicted with fibropapilloma (tumors). These growths on turtles' soft tissues, caused by a virus, can disable or even kill turtles. The tumors are a health problem that is separate and apart from the issues turtles face when they are cold stunned, but it also means the papilloma turtles that are cold stunned are sicker and more difficult to treat
Mote is one of only a few facilities in Florida that treats turtles with these tumors. Three of the turtles Mote is treating are also affected by these tumors.
More than 1,000 sea turtles statewide have been affected by the cold temperatures, according to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Turtles are primarily coming from Mosquito Lagoon on the east coast and St. Joe's Bay in the Florida Panhandle.
Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital expects to continue receiving sea turtles throughout the week as part of a multi-agency response effort that is being coordinated by the state. Federal agencies and nonprofit groups like Mote are also involved in the response.
In Sarasota or Manatee county waters, report a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle to Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212.
Report a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties to the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at (888) 404-FWCC (3922).
Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital is accepting donations online.
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