WELLFLEET — Low temperatures and high winds killed most of the more than 80 turtles that washed ashore Thursday morning in Brewster, Orleans and Eastham.
Jenette Kerr, communications coordinator for Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said most, but not all, of the turtles coming into the sanctuary are dead.
“We are at well over 400 cold-stunned turtles (for the year) — 82 today, the vast majority of them frozen solid,” Kerr said. ”(Wednesday) we had 87, the vast majority of them alive. Drastic change in the weather overnight. Most of the turtles are coming in from Brewster, Orleans and Eastham. We fear we may get more frozen turtles on (Thursday night’s) and (Friday’s) high tides.”
Fifty turtles were stranded between Wednesday night’s high tide and Thursday morning. “Most are dead,” Kerr said.
The more than 400 sea turtles that have come ashore since Oct. 22 surpassed the average for a stranding season, which generally runs from around Thanksgiving to Christmas. The tropical turtles — mostly small Kemp’s ridleys, some green turtles and a handful of large loggerheads — are trapped by cold water in Cape Cod Bay and their metabolism shuts down.
According to the National Weather Service, there is a gale warning in effect off the coasts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
A wind chill map released by the weather service shows temperatures of zero in Hyannis and 1 below zero in Provincetown.
Kerr said the high northwest winds are blowing turtles toward beaches in Brewster, Eastham and Orleans. Those areas are marked by shallow water, which is colder than the deeper water in the rest of the bay.
“Everything that’s coming in this morning is dead,” she said. Most of the turtles that came ashore on Thursday are Kemp’s ridleys, but there were three green turtles and a small loggerhead.
Once the immobilized turtles are blown onto shore, they face cold air temperatures and wind chill.
It is so cold that the beaches have frozen, making walking difficult, she said.
If the turtles were being blown toward Truro or Wellfleet, they likely would have a higher survival rate because of the deeper water, which is warmer than the water over the flats. While the bay temperatures cause cold stunning, they don’t necessarily kill.
“It’s the bad wind and these very low temperatures,” she said.
The turtles are coming in literally frozen, hard as bricks.