Sea World crew rescuing cold-stunned turtles in Coastal Bend waters

Every time temperatures in Texas take a plunge, sea turtles up and down the coast start to suffer immediately.

CORPUS CHRISTI (KIII NEWS) - Every time temperatures in Texas take a plunge, sea turtles up and down the coast start to suffer immediately.

It's called cold-stunning, and rescue crews from Sea World were out in the Laguna Madre Tuesday working against time and the elements to save those turtles.

Experts from Sea World traveled from San Antonio to Corpus Christi to help check the back bays for any signs of turtles in danger of the freezing temperatures.

Christopher Havel and Mark Telzrow

The Laguna Madre is one of the places where green sea turtles like to feed on sea grasses, and that's where Sea World Marine Experts Christopher Havel and Mark Telzrow began their rescue mission. It was not long before one turtle after another was found floating on the surface of the water, cold stunned.

When turtles have been in the cold water for too long, their heart rates slow along with their circulation. They become lethargic and some end up shocked or with pneumonia.

Those that rescuers can't get to in time will die.

"There are some cues a lot of times for these animals to get out of here, but unfortunately with some of these warmer winters that we've had, it stays warmer longer and it doesn't give them that natural cue to get out," Havel said. "And when we get a sudden drop, which is what we had the other day where it was 65 and then dropped to 30 overnight and stayed cold, and they don't get that cue to stay out."

Even if a turtle doesn't drown in the water and makes it onto land, the wind chill has been in the 20s and they feel every bit of that bone chilling weather.

"Normally you wouldn't be able to hold them like this without them trying to get away, so the fact that I'm able to pick it up like this and even pick it up in the wild means they are distressed," Havel said.

Cold stunning usually happens when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees, but researchers at the Padre Island National Seashore said they are seeing turtles become cold stunned at 64 degrees.

"We as a warm blooded species wouldn't be able to handle it," Havel said. "You stay in water below 70 for too long and you get hypothermia, so they can withstand it better than us, but still not on days like this."

So far there have been over 50 turtles found in the area in trouble or already dead. With temperatures expected to be below freezing for another two days, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association has asked barge operators to voluntarily suspend operations for the next 24 hours. That is in effect along the Laguna Madre from the JFK Causeway south to Port Isabel. That move is to try and prevent any more turtle deaths and fish kills.

Experts say fish become slow and sluggish in these cold waters just like the turtles. If you do spot a fish kill in the area, you are asked to call 281-842-8100. For stunned turtles, you can call 361-949-8173 ext. 226.

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