Turtles strand in record numbers

Massachusetts Audubon Society staff and volunteers continued to find sea turtles washing up on Cape Cod beaches during the holidays.

Nearly a dozen of these tropical turtles came ashore, their metabolism virtually shut down as a result of exposure to cold water, until they could do little but float and get pushed around by onshore winds.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff members said this year’s total of 350 threatened or endangered sea turtles that have been recovered on the Cape shattered the past record of 278 set in 1999 and is the highest since they started keeping track 30 years ago.

In a statement Friday, sanctuary director Robert Prescott said the dramatic increase was likely because there were a lot more turtles in Cape Cod Bay this year.

Hurricane Sandy also helped drive many to shore in late October.

Other records were broken this year as well, including 96 loggerhead turtles retrieved from beaches, while turtle rescuers might see only a dozen in any given year.

Also, a record 228 endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles were recovered, and 23 rescued green turtles nearly double the previous record.

The normal survival rate for these rescued sea turtles is 45 percent, but 65 percent survived this year, most sent to the New England Aquarium’s turtle rehabilitation center in Quincy, with some going to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay.

The New England Aquarium had to ship 75 relatively healthy or stable turtles to other facilities to make room for new arrivals.

In the statement, Prescott said sea turtles may continue to wash up on Cape beaches late into January because water temperatures have been unseasonably warm.