A group of migrating sea turtles were reportedly caught in a “freak” weather system off the coast of Cape Cod, leading to 190 of the marine animals freezing to death.
As NBC News reported, the massive number of deaths were discovered on Friday and announced by the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, which said that the turtles were caught up in a “once-in-a-lifetime” combination of freezing temperatures, gale force winds, and high tide. The freakish weather conditions made it impossible for the turtles to escape, experts said.
“A lot of the turtles were found frozen in the water still,” Mass Audubon’s director Bob Prescott told NBC News. “I picked up two to three myself that were still in the water, the slushy water.”
A report from AccuWeather noted that Cape Cod was hit with a spell of unusually cold weather, including back to back nights of single-digit temperatures. The first group of 82 turtles washed up on beaches on Wednesday but were not dead, the report noted, though ones found later in the week were not so lucky.
Because sea turtles are cold blooded, they become stunned when there are sharp drops in temperature, AccuWeather noted. This happens when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the turtles to become immobilized and causing them to float to the surface. There, they are subject to freezing winds and ice chunks. When these turtles wash ashore, survival becomes almost impossible, the report noted.
The Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary noted that it has now found close to 400 dead turtles this season off the Massachusetts coast, and blamed changing migration patterns. Researchers said sea turtles once arrived in Cape Cod near October, but rising ocean temperatures pushed the arrival back to November, when they are at greater risk of running into volatile weather systems.
“Sea turtles are moving further north along our coast, or south to the southern hemisphere, as waters are warming and they are expanding their ranges,” Wallace J. Nichols, a research associate at California Academy of Sciences and sea turtle biologist, told NBC News. “So when we get these quick swings from warm to cooler, the turtles that haven’t made it south definitely get into trouble.”
Some of the sea turtles that froze to death outside of Cape Cod belonged to endangered species and included a massive loggerhead turtle. Wildlife officials took to the shores around Cape Cod to collect the frozen sea turtles, and have helped to treat those that were not killed.