The record cold and snow in Texas didn’t just catch the state’s human inhabitants off-guard, it threatened its endangered sea turtle population.
Volunteers rescued thousands of the endangered amphibians across the Gulf region last week that were effectively paralyzed by the freezing temperatures, preventing them from eating or keeping their heads above water.
Wildlife officials in Corpus Christi recently returned hundreds of sea turtles to the ocean and used slides to return them to the wild.
The gentle creatures were placed one at a time on a wet slide, zoomed back into the water and then swam away.
The Texas Sealife Center says it released more than 200 sea turtles on Monday and Tuesday alone.
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Rehabilitated turtles are placed one at a time on a long slide, then zoom down and splash into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico
Residents across South Texas worked to rescue the cold-blooded creatures, which can succumb to ‘cold stun’ in arctic weather.
Cold stun is a condition in which extremely low temperatures cause hypothermia, paralyzing the turtles and preventing them from eating or keeping their heads above water.
It can also make them more susceptible to predators and boat propellers.
‘If water temperatures drop below approximately 50°F, sea turtles become lethargic and are unable to swim. They float up to the surface and become vulnerable to boat strikes or wash ashore and become stranded,’ according to the National Park Service.
Arctic weather in south Texas last week caused the water temperature to dip below 50 degrees, sending thousands of sea turtles into shock. Pictured: Turtles at the convention center on South Padre Island
‘If not rescued quickly, these defenseless animals often die of shock, predation, or trauma due to boat strike.’
On South Padre Island, volunteers working with local rescue group Sea Turtle, Inc. took more than 4,000 frozen turtles to the convention center for rehabilitation.
In Corpus Christi, residents and staff at the Texas Sealife Center rescued more than a thousand green sea turtles, plucking them from boats and sometimes carrying them by hand.
Once in a temperature-controlled shelter, they slowly bring the animal’s body temperature back up to normal.
When a turtle appears to have recovered, it’s given a ‘swim test,’ naturalist Jamie McWilliams of the Cape Ann Whale Watch told IFLScience.
‘In order for a turtle to be medically cleared for release by our veterinarian, Dr Tim Tristan, they must be able to dive, settle to the bottom of the pool and remain active.’
A green sea turtle takes its final swim test before being returned to the ocean
If a turtle gets a clean bill of health and passes its swim exam, it’s released about 12 miles off the coast.
The staff doesn’t just toss the creatures overboard, but each turtle is carefully placed on a slicked-up slip ‘n’ slide and careens into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
But just because most turtles are back in the water doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods yet, McWilliams said.
Sea turtles lie in tubs as volunteers work to warm their body temperatures after the winter storm
‘We still have 75 juvenile green sea turtles at our facility who require additional rehabilitation for various injuries,’ she told IFL Science, adding that the donation-based group still needs help covering surgeries and antibiotics for its remaining patients.
Sea Turtle Inc also posted a video on Facebook of some of the 2,200 cold-stunned turtles it released into the Gulf down blue slides.
The group thanked the thousands of community members who ‘ bundled up and volunteered long hours,” many of whom had no electricity, heat or water at home.
‘We still have lots of work to do but we are rejuvenated with passion and having seen our first released turtles swim away.’