A cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtle gets an antibiotic injection from a rehabilitation specialist. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed

Twenty endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles arrived in the subtropical Florida Keys on Dec. 9 to warm up and receive treatment after suffering “cold stunning” in the waters off Massachusetts. 

Found stranded around Cape Cod Bay as a result of the condition, the turtles were rescued and flown to Marathon.

“We are warming these turtles up, just like the visitors that come to the Keys,” said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. 

“Cold stunning” occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time. It typically causes them to stop eating and swimming, Zirkelbach said.

A group of private pilots, dubbed “Turtles Fly Too,” donated their aircraft, fuel and time, transporting the turtles in towel-lined banana boxes.

The most critically ill turtles will need additional testing to discover whether they have pneumonia, infections or other ailments, according to Zirkelbach. Treatment will be determined accordingly, as will the length of the rehabilitation period. 

“The turtles that respond to treatment and aren’t as critical, we hope to get them back in the ocean within two to three months, and some of them may take a little longer and be with us here in the Keys for 10 to 12 months,” Zirkelbach said. 

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered of turtle species, according to Zirkelbach.

Turtle hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach, right, and rehab specialist Krista Breshears record the temperatures of cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed
Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach administers a swim test to a cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed