Cold weather may be welcomed during the holidays to give us that festive feel, however our native wildlife doesn’t always cope well with a sudden drop in temperature. Reptiles (like sea turtles) are cold blooded, so they get their warmth from the environment. This is opposite of animals like us (mammals)-we are able to generate our own body heat so we can travel from warm to cold temperatures easily. Sea turtles cannot do this! When the temperature of the air and water drop suddenly, like they have been doing over the past few weeks (and looks like they will continue to do), sea turtles actually become stunned by the drastic change in temperature. They often drift into marshes and bays when this happens, so cold that they are unable to perform their usual activities (like swimming!).
On Monday, Houston Zoo staff assisted in the weekly beach survey done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), looking for injured or stranded sea turtles. We got a call from a wildlife rehabilitator who had come upon a cold stunned green sea turtle, and we made arrangements to meet up with her to get the turtle back to Galveston where it could be rehabilitated.
When we got the green sea turtle, we packed it up in the backseat of the NOAA vehicle in a crate and used towels to keep it warm. It is important to not only increase the body temperature of the sea turtle, but also maintain a consistent temperature so that the turtle doesn’t experience drastic changes in cold vs. hot environments. We kept the heat warm in the truck for the drive from Surfside back to Galveston, and then unloaded the turtle in a bigger enclosure inside the heated turtle barn that NOAA oversees. We gave the turtle a bit of water to swim around in but it was too weak to move. So, the turtle was given a dry enclosure with plenty of towels for warmth overnight and the next morning the turtle was doing well-active and alert!
Now, the turtle is in water and will stay in the warmth of NOAA’s sea turtle facility until it can be brought back to a healthy condition.
If you would like to help protect our local sea turtles, consider making a donation to the Houston Zoo for our sea turtle conservation efforts. You can also come check out our Zoo Lights event with your family-every time you visit the Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!