Ever wonder how sick and cold turtles are transported? The answer is by private plane, in banana boxes, covered with bath towels.

Thirty-two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles arrived at the Marathon airport on Dec. 11. The turtles were stranded in Massachusetts after the stunning cold of Winter Storm Diego earlier this week. Rescued by the New England Aquarium in Boston, they were sent to the Florida Keys to be rehabilitated.

“Thankfully only two were in critical condition and those are in shallow water. The rest are in the large tank and doing well,” said the Turtle Hospital’s Bette Zirkelbach. “Only about half of them were really sick. The other half were already eating.”

The turtle’s medical records were emailed ahead of their arrival, and each turtle was marked with a day-glo orange number.

“As with patients in a hospital, we need to be able to identify the individual,” Zirkelbach said. “There’s a reason for those numbers.”

Zirkelback said the situation in the Northeast is dire.

“They are reporting more than 700 turtles dead, but they can’t keep up with the count,” she said.

Zirkelbach praised the coordinated effort to get the sick turtles to Marathon, including the ability to track the plane. “We had the tail numbers and used flightaware.com. … It’s a little like the way everyone tracks Santa on Christmas Eve.”

The turtles were delivered courtesy of pilot Chuck Yankee in coordination with Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit. Representative Sophia Costa said more flights to other destinations also are in the works to get all the cold-stunned turtles to treatment.

“I just finished flying three wolves on Monday,” said Yankee, adding tongue-in-cheek that he had his wife’s permission to make the turtle trip in his Pilatus PC-12. The trek started on Dec. 10 in Thomasville, Georgia, one of Yankee’s homeports. He picked up his co-pilot Mike Lalley in Atlanta, and then they flew to Marshfield, Mass. They made a stop to refuel before continuing on to Marathon.

How were the passengers?

“Pretty quiet. They flapped their flippers a little at the beginning but that was it,” he said, cheerfully.

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