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Rehabbed endangered turtles returned into the Gulf

The conditions on Tuesday were perfect to release 21 rehabilitated sea turtles off the Louisiana coast into the Gulf of Mexico .

“It was fantastic,” said Suzanne Smith, stranding-and-rescue coordinator for the Audubon Nature Institute. “It was one of those days when everything came together.”

She and her colleagues transported the turtles 24 miles off the coast of Grand Isle.

Back in December, frigid conditions along the Massachusetts coastline caused more than 1,200 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles to succumb to “cold stunting” — becoming immobile and drifting with the current. The effect is caused when dropping water temperatures cause the body temperature of the turtles, which are cold blooded, to fall below tolerable levels.

Although cold-stunting happens every winter, this year’s numbers were exceptionally high.

“This was an overwhelming year,” Smith said.

The institute, located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, took in 27 of the turtles in December. When they arrived, the majority of the turtles had pneumonia. Their shells and flippers were damaged, similar to when humans get frostbite. In addition, the turtles weren’t eating.

After a month of antibiotics and food, 21 were healthy enough to be released back into the wild on Tuesday. One of the turtles the Audubon institute received didn’t survive. The remaining five will receive additional treatment until they are also ready for release.

The Audubon Nature Institute wasn’t the only facility that received cold-stunted turtles this winter. During a normal year, the New England Aquarium rescues between 25 and 150 turtles from Cape Cod beaches. When more than 1,000 turtles were found this year, the aquarium began shipping them to other facilities along the east and Gulf Coast.

Some facilities have already released their rehabilitated turtles and others are anticipating a release within the next couple of weeks, Smith said.