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Florida freeze leaves turtles shell-shocked

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 13, 2010
  • Longboat Key
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Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital was already operating above its capacity of approximately a half-dozen turtles when record-low temperatures arrived last week. But in the past week, Mote officials have been scrambling to treat sea turtles with cold-stunning, which renders turtles lethargic and can shut down their organs and bodily functions.

“We were pretty much full to begin with,” said Mote Public Relations Manager Nadine Slimak. “Now we’re definitely over capacity.”

According to Slimak, the hospital is quickly running out of tub space for the turtles. As of noon Tuesday, Jan. 12, the sea-turtle hospital was treating 13 green turtles and one loggerhead turtle. Mote began receiving cold-stunned turtles Thursday, Jan. 7. Since then, four turtles have been euthanized, and an additional seven have died. Some of the turtles were found locally on Lido Key and Anna Maria Island, but most have been transported to Mote from the Titusville area.

Because Mote is one of just three facilities in the state that treats papilloma tumors, growths on soft tissues that can disable or kill a turtle, the majority of the cold-stunned turtles Mote has treated also have papilloma tumors.

Slimak said that veterinarians often treat cold-stunned turtles by giving them fluids and raising the temperature of their water in small increments over time.

“Because turtles are reptiles, they don’t create their own body heat,” she said. “The water temperature is pretty much how warm they’re going to be.”

Mote is just one of many statewide agencies treating cold-stunned turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) reports that more than 250 cold-stunned turtles have been rescued.

Cold-stunned turtles may move slowly, often floating in the water or washing to shore, and may appear to be dead. To report a turtle with cold-stunning symptoms, contact Mote at 988-0212 or FWC at 888-404-3922.


Wild weather
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports that low temperatures are affecting many types of local wildlife. Manatees exposed to water temperatures of lower than 68 degrees can experience manatee cold-stress syndrome, which can be fatal, while warm-water fish species, especially snook, can be killed outright by cold temperatures or become more susceptible to disease. To report a dead or distressed animal, call the FWC hotline at 888-404-3922. To report fish kills, call the FWC Fish Kill Hotline 800-636-0511.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].


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