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An FWC biologist examines a cold-stunned sea turtle

An FWC biologist examines a cold-stunned sea turtle. Photos by FWC/Andy Wraithmell/Bekah Nelson.

In the wake of the unusually chilly weather our state experienced this past week, you may have heard a lot about sea turtles being cold stunned. What is this condition and how is the Zoo helping?

What is cold stunning?
Like other reptiles, sea turtles are cold-blooded animals that rely on external heat sources to maintain their body temperature. When exposed to unusually cold water temperatures for an extended period of time, they will exhibit a hypothermic reaction that may include a lower heart rate, decreased circulation and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and, sometimes, death. Sea turtles by the coast are especially susceptible to cold stunning because water temperatures fluctuate more quickly in shallow areas.

How is cold stunning treated?
Often all cold-stunned sea turtles need is an opportunity to rest and raise their body temperatures. They may be brought to a mobile heated facility and kept out of water for a few hours or days, then released.

Who’s helping the sea turtles?
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff and volunteers are doing an excellent job of searching for and rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles in the areas where they are most likely to be found. FWC has set up mobile units to bring the patients’ body temperatures up.

Cold-stunned green sea turtle covered with towels

A green sea turtle with fibropapilloma tumors warms up at our Sea Turtle Healing Center.

What is the Zoo doing to help?
Although FWC has rescued hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles so far this season, only four have been brought to our Sea Turtle Healing Center. Three of these patients were juvenile green sea turtles with fibropapilloma tumors that will require longer-term care; the fourth is an adult loggerhead that needs a little extra space due to her size. (We hope to release her very soon.)

How can I help?
If you find a sea turtle you believe has been cold stunned, don’t touch it. Call FWC at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or Sea Turtle Preservation Society at (321) 206-0646.