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Dragon's Breath, Electric Daisy, other sea turtles released on Cape Cod beach after months of rehab

Patrick Flanary: I'm Patrick Flanary in Woods Hole. This is Morning Edition on CAI. Back during the winter, when it was very cold and very gray, eight critically endangered sea turtles were rescued from the shores of Cape Cod. This morning, they're returning to sea. Eve Zuckoff was there for the release on West Dennis Beach and joins us from there. Hi Eve.

Eve Zuckoff: Hey, Patrick.

Patrick Flanary: Set the scene for us. I'm picturing these turtles sort of slowly crawling back over the beach and into the water. What did you see?

Eve Zuckoff: You know, Patrick, I think turtles are faster than you might imagine. The morning started in the parking lot where eight of these Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtles in the world, made the ride down from Quincy, a rehab center there, in the trunk of a New England Aquarium van. And a little after 7:00 this morning, a group of volunteers brought them all down to the beach, each in their little plastic containers, where they had a few minutes to acclimate to the ocean air, smell it, take it in. And then the turtles were let out in waves, basically three at a time. The calmest ones went first. They were all carried into the water, some flapping their flippers mid-air because these little dinner plate-sized turtles were having a hard time getting over the thick seaweed right on the shoreline when they were first placed down on the beach. But once in the water, all of them took off swimming through Nantucket Sound, some of them keeping their heads above water to breathe. And, you know, maybe they were giving us all on the beach one last look.

Patrick Flanary: Really nice imagery there, Eve. Why were they in that Quincy rehab center to begin with?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, these turtles were among nearly 400 live sea turtles that stranded on Cape Cod beaches in November and December. Basically, they became unable to regulate their body temperature in the cold waters of Cape Cod Bay this past winter. So staff at the Aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy treated them for hypothermia, and other medical conditions like pneumonia, dehydration. There was a fractured shell. Some were septic with blood infections. They had eye issues, cuts in flippers. And finally, after months of rehabilitative care, these guys were ready to go home today.

Patrick Flanary: And so the experts — I mean, they are experts, they know what they're doing — they feel confident that these turtles will thrive and know where to go once they're in the water?

Eve Zuckoff: That's the hope. The vast majority of these turtles should spend the summer in Cape Cod Bay, where there are plenty of crabs and mussels and shellfish for them to eat. And then when it gets a bit colder, the Kemp's ridley sea turtles are expected to head south into the Gulf Stream. They may go as far as Florida, Georgia and beyond, but of course this doesn't prevent them against future strandings. Warming waters from climate change have increased how many turtles a year are cold stunning. Like 20 years ago, volunteers were working with maybe 30 turtles a year. Now they see 400 a year. And those numbers seem to be ticking up.

Patrick Flanary: Tell us, Eve, was there a turtle that made a particular impression on the staff that you were able to see this morning?

Eve Zuckoff: Yes. So this batch of sea turtles was all named for flowers. And the one that really captured hearts and minds was called Electric Daisy. She had suffered some serious lung and blood issues. They thought she was blind for a while. They had specialists come in to test her vision, but eventually they were able to separate her from the other turtles and get her to feed. And today she was strong enough to head out on her own.

Patrick Flanary: Electric Daisy sounds like a band playing Allston this weekend. One more thing for you, Eve: Will the aquarium be releasing any more turtles or was this a one-off?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, they've got 27 more in the Quincy hospital, and the goal is to get them all back into the ocean. Hopefully, some locals will be able to see the future ones. They typically keep these releases closed to keep the turtles safe.

Patrick Flanary: Eve Zuckoff, joining us live from West Dennis Beach, talking turtles. Eve, thanks so much for joining us.

Eve Zuckoff: Thank you, Patrick.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.