Sea Turtle Stranding Season Underway Early
Edit 4/7: If you live outside of South Carolina and encounter a stranded sea turtle, see this list for the appropriate contact in your state.
Several weeks remain before the official start of sea turtle nesting season, but many of the threatened and endangered reptiles are already in South Carolina waters – and they're keeping SCDNR sea turtle staff and network volunteers on their toes.
SCDNR biologists and stranding volunteers responded to eight sea turtle strandings in one day this week (April 4), said SCDNR sea turtle program coordinator Michelle Pate. Stranded sea turtles are any turtles that wash ashore, either alive or dead, typically as a result of injury or illness. The animals ranged across the state from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island and represent three of the four sea turtle species that nest in South Carolina.
One of the animals, a live green sea turtle recovered from Myrtle Beach, was transported to the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center for medical treatment. Three of the animals stranded on April 4 were leatherbacks, the largest and deepest-diving of the planet’s sea turtles. SCDNR biologists will conduct gross necropsies to determine cause(s) of death for these animals, whose species is of particular interest and less understood by biologists. Preliminary evidence suggests the leatherbacks may have been struck by boats.
What’s unusual about the recent strandings, said Pate, is not necessarily the rate at which they’re occurring so much as the timing. Sea turtles arrived in South Carolina waters sooner than normal this year as a result of unusually warm ocean temperatures, which kickstarted an early stranding season. From January 2017 to present, 24 stranded sea turtles have been reported in South Carolina. Only four animals were reported during the same period in 2016.
Coastal weather conditions may have also contributed to the recent influx of stranded sea turtles found on South Carolina's shores.
“Only a small percentage of dead and injured sea turtles ever wash ashore, and storm systems such as those we’ve experienced this week have a tendency to push more of those animals onto our beaches,” said Pate.
What to do if You Encounter a Stranded Sea Turtle
Whether you're on the water or beach, knowing who to call could help you save a sea turtle’s life.
If you see a sick, injured or dead sea turtle, report it the SCDNR wildlife hotline immediately at 1-800-922-5431.
Be prepared to provide information about your location and the condition of the animal (is it alive or dead?) as well as any photos you can obtain. If the animal is alive, you may be asked to wait with the sea turtle until a biologist or volunteer arrives to transport the animal to a medical treatment facility.
SCDNR sea turtle biologists also encourage members of the public to report sightings of live, healthy sea turtles online at SeaTurtle.org.