PENSACOLA – The winter storm that struck the Florida Panhandle is being blamed for the deaths of pelicans, sea turtles and other wildlife.
More than 130 cold-stunned endangered and threatened sea turtles were rescued Thursday and Friday, The Pensacola News Journal reports. About a dozen more were found dead, including some from the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“With all the bridges being closed, we were not able to do what we really needed to do,” Seashore biologist Mark Nicholas said. “Time is of the essence.”
Most of the turtles being found are green sea turtles, Robbin Trindell, a biological administrator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the newspaper. They will be taken to the Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach to recover and be released sometime next week.
The storm covered much of the western Florida Panhandle with ice and snow. Water temperatures dropped quickly from about 58 degrees to 37 degrees, FWC wildlife biologist Allen Foley said.
Sea turtles go into a catatonic state when they suffer from the reptile version of hypothermia. Unlike marine mammals such as dolphins and manatees, they cannot keep themselves warm. Once temperatures dip below 50 degrees, sea turtles have difficulty moving through the water.
“When it comes to wildlife, it seems the turtles had the most trouble,” Foley said.
He also saw dead lady fish, sea urchins and horseshoe crabs while searching for sea turtles.
Five pelicans suffering from hypothermia were also rescued. Wildlife workers encourage anyone who sees a sick or injured bird to bring them to the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida.