Caring for cold stuns

Sea Turtle Hospital News

We’ve admitted and rehabilitated cold stunned turtles for, well, forever. We’re always sympathetic to their plight: they were just happily going about their everyday turtle lives before being suddenly stopped in their tracks by forces outside of their control. After having the same thing done to all of us in 2020 we have a greater appreciation for how these critters must feel. We may have bigger “tanks” to spend our time in but we’re just doing our best to make it out alive.

We’re experiencing what could be the start of a local cold stun season with a half-dozen greens and one young loggerhead admitted a few weeks ago. For the most part these guys, although clearly underweight were not the worst we’ve seen. Maybe because our winter has been relatively mild, and they were not subjected to repeated freezing and thawing. But you can’t judge a turtle just by its carapace. Cold stunning wreaks havoc on the internal organs and that damage sometimes takes many months to show up. For the moment most of these critters are doing OK.

All year, but especially in the winter when things around here are pretty quiet we rely on our locals and visitors to be our extra eyes locating and rescuing turtles stranded on the beach, in the marsh or floating in the water. Cold stuns are pretty easy to rescue once you spot them; as the term implies, they are just lying there, helpless. You won’t have to chase them down. And don’t assume just because they’re not moving (and are very cold) that they are dead. There is a good chance that they can recover with immediate and proper care.

Gently pick them up and then follow a few basic steps. Take them to an unheated but sheltered place, like your car or your garage. You may be tempted to warm them up but that’s the worst thing you can do. Turtles are reptiles and cannot regulate body temperature so forcing their body to adjust quickly to a heated environment could send them into shock. Then call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880; Jean at: 910-470-2800, or the hospital at: 910-329-0222. NC Wildlife Resources also has an Emergency hotline number that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367. We’re hoping this will not be a repeat of the 100-plus cold stuns we housed last winter, but we’ve all learned by now that we have extraordinarily little say about what comes our way.

Coming soon: A major announcement about the hospital. Please remember that you can always keep up with us on Facebook or our website ( where you can adopt Lennie, Canal and Myrtle and purchase items from our gift shop.