GALVESTON - Since our temperatures started plunging a few weeks ago, hundreds of sea turtles have been found motionless along the Texas coast.
"When these cold fronts come through, it basically drops their body temperature to near freezing," explained Ben Higgins, Research Fishery Biologist at NOAA's Galveston Laboratory. "And the cold stuns them. It gives them shock."
Higgins works at NOAA's sea turtle hospital. Right now, he's helping warm up some green sea turtles who were literally "stunned" by the cold.
Green sea turtles generally stay closer to the coast because they're vegetarian and that's where they find their food.
So when the gulf waters undergo a sudden drop in temperature, they don't have time to head out to warmer waters.
That combined with cloudy skies means big trouble for them.
"They end up floating to the surface trying to get some warm sun shining on their shell to make them move again," said Higgins. "If they don't get that warm sun, their bodies continue to shut down, they go comatose and they drown."
Another danger: colliding with a passing boat, like one of the turtles that was admitted into the sea turtle hospital with a smashed shell and broken femur.
More than 200 stunned sea turtles along the Texas coast have been recovered since Nov. 25. They are getting treatment at various animal hospitals. Six of them were brought to the Galveston hospital.
Four of the six green sea turtles survived. Two of them are still here undergoing rehab. Higgins is hoping to release them into the wild in April.
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