Hundreds of Cold Stunned Sea Turtles Wash up in St. Joe Bay

By Joe Vitale

Florida’s unusually cold weather is keeping more than just tourists out the water.

Hundreds of sea turtles are washing up on Gulf County shores due to “cold stunning,” an ecological phenomenon caused by cold water temperatures, according to reports.

“When the water temperatures drop too much, our resident population of juvenile turtles, some adults even, are stunned,” Jessica Swindall, a Florida Coastal Conservancy volunteer, told WJHG. “[The turtles] can’t utilize their muscles at all, so they can’t swim, they can’t lift their heads to breathe.”

Experts say that this occurs when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Parts of the Sunshine State dropped below freezing this week, with temperatures dipping below 40 Fahrenheit in southern Florida, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.

“They are cold-blooded animals, so their body temperature is the same temperature as their surroundings, so they cannot function.  And similar to when people are in a very cold environment, they get sort of sleepy,” Gulf World Marine Institute senior veterinarian Julie Cavin, DVM, told WJHG.

The turtles float helplessly in the water and even wash up on the shore.

To save the turtles, local volunteers scan the shoreline, while others in kayaks watch for floating turtles in the water, Swindall said.

Organizations such as the Florida Coastal Conservancy document the reptiles and send them to places like Gulf World in Panama City Beach.

There, experts warm and rehabilitate the turtles, returning them to full health before release.

“Every turtle that we help can hopefully be released, can become an adult and help the population grow,” Cavin added.

Gulf World expects around 300 turtles this week, according to WJHG.