Mini parade of rescued young sea turtles released into Gulf


GRAND ISLE, La. — A small parade of rescued young sea turtles has headed into the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana — a bright note in a tough season for sea turtles.

The 13 released Monday at Grand Isle were among more than 1,000 cold-stunned in New England starting in November. Many thousands were cold-stunned off of Texas in February by the winter storm that killed at least 20 people from Texas to the East Coast.

Once the cardboard boxes holding the turtles were put down on the beach, the dinner plate-sized turtles began scraping at the sides and poking their noses out of the holes, The Times -Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported. Their front flippers churned wildly as they were picked up.

“They’re like, ‘Let me back in!’” said Gabriella Harlamert, sea turtle stranding, rescue and rehab coordinator at the Audubon Nature Institute.

Sea turtles get cold-stunned and lethargic when the water around them chills down so fast they can’t swim to warmer waters. The cold alone can kill them. It can also lead to pneumonia, shock and frostbite.

Those released this week at Grand Isle were Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, like most of those injured in New England. They are the smallest and most endangered sea turtles — and all six species found in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Louisiana’s 13 were among a group of 30 brought to the Audubon Nature Institute after a rough ride from Cape Cod.

“All the days and nights over the last four months caring for these turtles have all been for this,” Harlamert said in a news release Wednesday. “Getting to return them to the wild is why we do what we do, and it’s the best feeling ever.”

During a season when COVID-19 restrictions canceled the Mardi Gras parade season in New Orleans, Audubon staffers named them all after Mardi Gras parade and walking krewes. Those released Monday had been dubbed Tucks, Rex, Zulu, Thoth, Endymion, Chaos, Themis, Muff-a-lotta, Stomper, Athena, Carrollton, Pandora and Proteus. Fifteen are still being rehabilitated; two died of infection and pneumonia, Audubon said in a news release Wednesday.

In all, 613 of the 1,050 cold-stunned turtles found in New England went into rehabilitation, Jenette Kerr, spokeswoman for Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said in an email Wednesday. Some of those didn’t survive, she said, but she didn’t know how many.

So many green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were found off Texas in February that the South Padre Island Convention Center was used as an emergency sea turtle hospital. More than 10,600 had been found as of Feb. 24; officials could not be immediately reached Wednesday for an update.

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