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PPG Aquarium Nurses Endangered Sea Turtles Back To Health

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Each year at this time, endangered sea turtles who haven't made it to southern waters wash up on the New England coast, and each year, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium helps to nurse some of those turtles back to health.

Director of Animal Health Ginger Sturgeon examines turtle 039. He's 1 of 15 critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles that arrived at the Pittsburgh Zoo Sunday night. They had washed up on the Massachusetts coast in what's called a "cold-stunned condition."

"What 'cold-stunned turtle' really means is that they got caught out in the water, the weather changed, and for whatever reason, got disoriented, and they weren't able to migrate south and follow the warmer weather," Dr. Sturgeon says.

That's when the water temperature drops to about 54 degrees. About 100 of the turtles have washed ashore, near death, so far this winter. Number 039 is barely responding.

"His heart beat has just dropped to about four beats per minute," Dr. Sturgeon says. "Four. That's it."

Average is 60 to 70. When the exam is over, the turtles are boxed up and transported to the Sea Turtle Second Chance facility at PPG Aquarium.

Sea turtle keeper Josie Romasco lowers them into a tank of 74 degree sea water to begin a comfortable convalescence.

"They're very, very resilient," she says. "They might look like they're on death's doorstep, and there could be a long road ahead of them, but there's a perfect opportunity to give them a second chance."

Now, turtle 039 is in the tank, swimming with his friends, perhaps wondering when he can get back in the ocean again.

For Josie Romasco, the feeling is mutual.

"We want to see them returned back to the ocean," she says. That's the best feeling in the world."

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