Turtle Conservation at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium helps rehabilitate sea turtles that are injured or sick. Most of them arrive here after washing ashore on Cape beaches in the late autumn, when sudden temperature changes can cause "cold stunning."
Why We Have Turtles
Four species of sea turtle can be found in New England waters: green, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley. Most turtles head south before the weather turns, but most years some stragglers are “cold stunned” when water temperatures fall in October or November. These turtles sometimes wash ashore on Cape beaches where they die if they are not rescued and transported to a facility where they can be treated for problems such as skeletal and shell injuries, frost bite, pneumonia, or internal injuries.
The turtles get critical care at larger aquariums or facilities dedicated to turtle conservation. The Woods Hole Science Aquarium provides follow-up care for turtles that need time to recover from their stranding. We usually release our turtles in August, nine months after they strand. The Aquarium does not keep turtles for display.
Who We Have Helped
Since the Aquarium began turtle rehabilitation in the 1990s, we have helped care for 35 turtles, including Kemp’s ridleys, greens, loggerheads, and diamondback terrapins. These animals are not on display. They recover their health and body weight in the Aquarium’s off-exhibit rehabilitation tanks until they are healthy enough to be returned to the wild.
Caring for Turtles
The turtles receive regular veterinary care and are sometimes transported to the Tufts University vet hospital for CAT scans. The turtles get much of their day-to-day care from volunteers. When the turtles have regained full health and the New England waters are at their warmest, the staff tags the turtles and releases them on local beaches. Some years the turtles are released with satellite tags – these animals can be tracked at Seaturtle.org.
Read an interview with the Aquarium's vet
Status of Turtles
All marine turtles in New England waters are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Kemp’s ridleys are considered “endangered” and loggerheads and green turtles are “threatened.” Diamondback terrapins are not marine turtles; they are coastal animals that live in marshes and estuaries. They are considered “threatened” under Massachusetts law.
Links to Turtle Information
- Endangered Species
- Sea Turtles
- Protected Species in the Northeast: Turtles, Whales, Seals and Porpoises
- Releasing our turtles:
- 2012 Turtle Release on Martha's Vineyard
- Turtle Travels: From Woods Hole to Jekyll Island, Georgia
- 14 Rescued Sea Turtles to be Released from Cape Cod
- Two Sea Turtles Released off Martha’s Vineyard