Sea Turtle Activty At The Riverhead Foundation Heats Up

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While many mark Thanksgiving as a day of food and family, the Riverhead Foundation of Marine Research and Preservation shows its appreciation of marine life by gearing up for its busiest season of the year.

Thanksgiving, according to Rob DiGiovanni, the foundation’s executive director and senior biologist, marks the kickoff of one of the organization’s missions—to help cold-stunned sea turtles that wash up on the beach.

Cold-stunning is essentially hypothermia, where an animal’s body slowly starts to shut down, causing some paralysis and preventing the creature from swimming to warmer water. The stunning occurs in four stages, Mr. DiGiovanni said, with the first being when the turtle exhibits only mild symptoms of hypothermia and low body temperature. At the other end of the spectrum is stage four, in which the turtle exhibits no outward signs of life.

“In the past week, we’ve responded to 15 sea turtles,” he said last week. “Seven of those turtles are showing signs of life, and six are being rehabilitated.”

The numbers are up from years past, he said, again using Thanksgiving Day as a benchmark. “But the holiday is later in the month, so that might have something to do with it,” he said.

The foundation is the only one in New York State to offer something like a first-responder program for marine life. It is funded completely by donations and a $50,000 grant from the state.

“We don’t have crews located throughout the state,” Mr. DiGiovanni said by phone on Monday, “so we’re responding from Riverhead, across the state.”

Timing and community involvement are crucial in saving the turtles, he said. The organization has a 24-hour hotline for those who have seen a turtle, seal, dolphin, whale or other marine animal, injured or well, to provide the nonprofit organization with information as to their location and whether a response team is needed.

“The most important thing for people to know,” said Mr. DiGiovanni, “is to call us as soon as they see an animal, even if they think it’s dead.” He explained that while many cold-stunned turtles may outwardly appear dead, some are still alive but in serious shock.

“It’s also important that people don’t try to move the animal,” he said. “Just get us involved in the equation as early as possible.”

Those who see turtles, whales, seals or dolphins, apparently healthy or not, are asked to call (631) 369-9829 immediately and visit www.riverheadfoundation.org for more information.

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