Warm winter in New England helping save Cape Cod's sea turtles

CAPE COD, Mass. -- Heading into the last full week of 2015, many parts of the Northeast are still waiting for their first blast of winter weather. But on Cape Cod, the temperatures have been a blessing for the folks working to save endangered sea turtles.

Every year, around this time, volunteers work from sun-up to sundown to save the endangered Kemp's ridley turtle.

After spending the summer in Cape Cod, they struggle to find their way out of the frigid waters in December. Cape Cod Bay's hook-shaped geography makes it even more difficult for the turtles to escape.

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Sea turtle in Cape Cod.
CBS News

Last year, volunteers found more than 1,200 trapped sea turtles along the shores.

Rescuers packed the living ones into small banana boxes and rushed them to marine hospitals across the country, where they were numbered, diagnosed and treated.

A year ago, more than half of these turtles were dead when they washed ashore, because the water was so cold.

Connie Merigo -- who spoke to CBS News then -- is the director of the Sea Turtle Hospital at the New England Aquarium.

"When they come here, a lot of these turtles are so cold that their heartbeat is somewhere around 1, 2, 3, 4 beats per minute," she explained.

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Sea turtles in Cape Cod.
CBS News

But officials with the Massachusetts Audubon Society said this year, the sea surface temperature in Cape Cod Bay is the warmest it has ever been.

Bob Prescott, who has been rescuing turtles for more than 30 years, says the Kemp's ridley are getting comfortable in the bay.

"The water temp being very, very warm late in the season keeps them here longer," he said. "Two weeks ago we had a big pulse of stranded turtles. Eighty to 90 percent of those turtles were still alive, which is unheard of in December."

A December to remember for the volunteers, who are expected to save more of the endangered species. And return them to where they belong.