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Cold-stunned Clearwater sea turtles rehabbing at Keys Turtle Hospital

Rehabilitation specialists Lauren Miller (above left) and Courtney Miller check on one of seven juvenile green sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital.
Rehabilitation specialists Lauren Miller (above left) and Courtney Miller check on one of seven juvenile green sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital.

They came wrapped in blankets and in plastic bins, riding in the back of a pickup from Clearwater some 400 miles to the northwest.

Seven juvenile green sea turtles were delivered Wednesday to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon at mile marker 48.5. They were "cold-stunned" after being found in 57-degree water in the Gulf of Mexico and were recovered by staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, according to Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach.

She said 20 mph winds blew the turtles inland. Some were found alive, like the seven brought here, but some were found dead.

Wednesday, Dr. Raj Joshi from the Marathon Veterinary Hospital and other staff at the Turtle Hospital gave the turtles thorough checkups after they arrived, checking for internal and external tumors.

Zirkelbach expected the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to bring about 10 more to the Turtle Hospital Friday night from the same area in Clearwater.

"One died through the night Thursday and another one passed away this morning," Zirkelbach said Friday. "Four of the sick turtles are already eating squid in their hospital tanks. If they are tumor free on the inside, then they will undergo surgeries to remove the external tumors when they are strong enough."

Sea turtles' internal temperatures are dependant upon the temperature of their environment. Should the water in which they swim in or the land is too cold, they can become lethargic, even die.

According to Zirkelbach, full recovery of the could take a year to two years depending on the severity of their fibropapillomatosis, a debilitating herpes virus that is specific to sea turtles. It causes internal and eternal tumors.

Release locations for the turtles will be determined once they recover.

In January 2010, 170 cold-stunned turtles made their way to the Turtle Hospital after bayside waters dipped as low as 47 degrees.

According to Andy Devanas, science officer at the Key West National Weather Service, said that Friday, waters were 66 degrees at Key West Harbor, 63 degrees at Long Key Light and 76 degrees at Molasses Reef in Key Largo.

Zirkelbach said 172 sea turtles were admitted to the Turtle Hospital last year. That was up from 93 sea turtles in 2014, 68 in 2013 and 65 in 2012.

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