Cold-stunned sea turtles undergoing rehab, preparing to be released

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -- Roughly 870 Green, Loggerhead and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles have washed ashore in Florida's St. Joe Bay after being cold-stunned by a sudden drop in water temperature.

Officials are calling it the second largest cold-stunning event in Florida Panhandle history.

"When the water temperature gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they go into kinda a comatose state," Senior Veterinarian Julie Cavin said.

Now, staff and volunteers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the United States Geological Survey, and Gulf World Marine Institute are coming together to bring the turtles back to health.

"Each turtle that we can rehab and release is very important to the overall population because all of the sea turtle species are threatened to be endangered," Cavin said.

Some are set to be released when the warm weather returns. Others will stay in rehab a little longer.

"Unfortunately, sometimes, when they are in the process of slowing down, they can aspirate water or when they get washed up on shore they can aspirate sand or water or other debris, so we do see a lot of animals with pneumonia. Those turtles will stay with us for a little bit longer and have treatment for those injuries and those illnesses," Cavin explained.

Gulf World officials say sea turtles instinctively swim to deeper water for warmth. They say some washed up in the bay because they simply didn't know how to get around it.

"The way the bay is created, there's that slip of land that is south of the bay so it's not really in their instinct to swim west and then south," Cavin said.

They say even more cold-stunned turtles could wash ashore as cold temperatures return this weekend.

Gulf world officials also say cold stunning events are a natural occurrence in bays across the U.S. The largest cold-stunning event in the Florida Panhandle was in 2010 affecting about 1,800 turtles.