As soon as water temperatures dip in the fall, sea turtles and some marine mammals that frequent the Chesapeake Bay are susceptible to cold-stunning or hypothermia.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources and National Aquarium staff returned three sea turtles to the Atlantic Ocean in September 2020, after months of rehabilitating the animals from near-fatal cold-stunning. Maryland DNR photo.

The immediate impacts can cause some species to become slow and unresponsive, making them dangerous to themselves and boaters.

Cold-stunning can also be lethal to marine mammals such as Florida manatees. While rare, some manatees will trek northward into the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months and stay until fall. As with sea turtles, cold snaps can cause severe hypothermia in manatees. Last year alone, marine animal rescue organizations responded to nearly 1,000 cold-stunned animals along the east coast.

Anyone who sees an unresponsive or lethargic sea turtle or marine animal in Maryland waters or onshore should call the Maryland Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 800-628-9944. The hotline is manned year-round, 24 hours a day. 

“We want to remind the public to report any signs of cold-stunned marine animals or sea turtles to the department,” said Amanda Weschler, coordinator of Maryland’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Program. “While cold-stunning is a natural occurrence, we can act to protect these animals and the public.”

As a reminder, marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act while sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  Harassment, feeding, or collecting these species can result in fines, imprisonment, or the seizure of vessels and personal property.


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