Over the last several winter seasons, Cape Cod has been experiencing record numbers of sea turtle strandings on their beaches. Last year in particular was a doozey with nearly 1,250 turtles rescued from Cape beaches. The previous record was in 2012 with close to 400 turtles. A string of early season strandings have already occurred and Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has been preparing for what could be another record-setting year.

cape cod times pic

Female loggerhead turtle found in the surf on Cape Cod in 2014. Photo credit: Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

While Nantucket has not historically seen nearly as many stranded turtles, it is not out of the realm of possibility. In fact, this past Sunday, December 6th, 2015, a green sea turtle was found in Nantucket Harbor near Quaise Point. The turtle was found out of the water and near the high tide mark. Thankfully, the turtle was transported off island and is now at the New England Aquarium in Boston for rehabilitation. As you walk the beaches here on Nantucket, please keep an eye out for stranded turtles!

What to do if you find a stranded turtle? If you find a turtle on a Nantucket beach this winter, it could use your help and time is of the essence! Please follow these protocols from Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • Do not throw the turtle back in to the water
  • Move the turtle up the beach above the high tide line
  • Cover the turtle in seaweed or eelgrass and mark its location with beach debris, buoys, sticks, etc. to make it easy to re-find
  • Call the Sea Turtle Hotline at 508-349-2615, extension 104
  • Leave a message with your name, number, date, time and be very specific when describing location. if you have the Google Earth app on your phone, give GPS coordinates. Be sure to tell them you are on Nantucket!
  • Do not remove the turtle from the beach unless instructed to do so by a volunteer at the Hotline

What causes a turtle to strand? Sea turtles are reptiles and are ectothermic, meaning that they are unable to internally regulate their body temperature. The body temperature of a reptile is dictated by the temperature of their environment. Some species of sea turtles migrate north in the summer and feed in the coastal waters off of New England. As fall approaches and water temperatures begin to drop, turtles should migrate south to warmer waters for the winter months. If for some reason they did not make it south in time, they can be caught up in colder water. When the water temperature reaches approximately 50°F, turtles will become hypothermic or “cold-stunned” – their body temperature dropped too low to function properly. They can no longer swim, can be quite susceptible to infections, and experience respiratory and other organ failure. At this point, they will bob to the surface and with luck, will be carried to shore with the wind and tides and hopefully found by a caring human!

To learn more about the sea turtle strandings on Cape Cod, the efforts of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to help save these turtles, and what else you can do to help, please follow this link:

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary


The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!