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Updated: More Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles

Aquarium staff examine a cold-stunned green sea turtle. Later, staff will begin the process of warming her back to normal temperature. Photo: Contributed

Updated 4 p.m. Dec. 18:

MANTEO –  Following last week’s drop in water temperatures, cold-stunned sea turtles continued to arrive throughout the weekend for treatment at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the aquarium announced Monday.

As of Monday morning, 96 sea turtles had been admitted to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center, or STAR Center. Donations have also arrived to the rehabilitation center through the North Carolina Aquarium Society, exceeding $3,100 since Friday. Additionally, donors have purchased $850 in supplies from the STAR Center’s wish list.

“We are extremely thankful for everyone’s help,” said aquarium director Maylon White in a statement. “Cold-stun season increases the demand for resources, supplies and energy, and these kinds of donations make a big difference.”

STAR Center Technician Madeleine VanMiddlesworth checks in on cold-stunned sea turtles. Since Dec. 14, 96 turtles have arrived at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Photo: NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island

Thirty turtles Saturday and Sunday were recovered on beaches around Hatteras, which were were then transported to the aquarium, adding to the more than 60 that had arrived by Friday evening.

Gradually rewarming cold-stunned turtles is crucial to their recovery, and requires several spaces heated to different temperatures.

The STAR Center has made space to house the turtles during this recovery process by lining the public walkway with bins containing recovering turtles and using the guest bathrooms near the aquarium admission offices.

As a result, the entirety of the STAR Center is being used as a recovery area, and the turtle hospital is temporarily closed to the public.

“Fortunately,” the aquarium said in the press release, “Many of the turtles are not experiencing any of the residual health issues or malnourishment sometimes associated with cold-stunning, and are displaying good swimming ability as soon as they are back to their ideal temperature. That positive prognosis means as many as 20 turtles may be going back to sea as early as this week via an off-shore boat release out of Morehead City.”

The aquarium appreciates any donations to help the cold-stunned sea turtle recovery effort. Find out how to donate items from the wish list at To donate to the STAR Center, mail or hand deliver a check with “STAR” or “Sea Turtle” in the subject line to the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, 374 Airport Road, P.O. Box 967, Manteo NC 27954 or donate online at and use the promo code STAR Center.

Original Post Dec. 14:

MANTEO – Sea turtles affected by the recent drop in water temperature arrived at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island this week and are being treated in the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation, or STAR, Center.

Aquarium officials announced Thursday that 20 cold-stunned sea turtles had been admitted to the STAR center, bringing the total to 26 so far this season, and at least 10 more were in transit to the aquarium. All 20 sea turtles were recovered in Hatteras and were brought to a Buxton staging facility where they underwent initial evaluation before being transported to the aquarium.

A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle gets a number for identification purposes. Photo: Contributed

Cold-stunning occurs when water temperatures drop rapidly before sea turtles have a chance to make their way back to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. Turtles affected experience hypothermia-like symptoms and are often found stranded on beaches up and down the Outer Banks.

“Cold-stun season is a busy time for us, but we start preparing early to be ready for the turtles,” said STAR Center Manager Amber White. “Thanks to the help of STAR Center techs, volunteers and other Aquarium staff, the intake process has gone very smoothly.”

During cold-stun events, volunteers from the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, or NEST, and National Park Service staff assist in locating and transporting stranded turtles.

On arrival at the STAR Center, cold-stunned sea turtles go through an initial intake process where staff check their responsiveness, record their vital signs, perform bloodwork, check for any trauma and give them fluids. The rehabilitation process involves gradually warming the turtles at a rate of about five degrees a day.

“So far, there have been no significant injuries or illnesses, and they are all in fairly good body condition which is a great sign,” White said.

Once the sea turtles display normal swimming ability, are eating regularly and pass a final health screening, they will be released back into the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream or from beaches in the southern U.S. where water temperatures are warmer.

The influx of cold-stunned turtles creates an increased need for special supplies, and this year the STAR Center has launched an wish list where donors can buy specific needed items for the center. Find out how to donate items online at

Anyone wanting to donate to the STAR Center can mail or hand deliver a check with “STAR” or “Sea Turtle” in the subject line to the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, 374 Airport Road, P.O. Box 967, Manteo NC, 27954 or donate online at and use the promo code STAR Center.


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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.