High number of dead turtles seen

Posted: June 23, 2012

LEWES, Del. - In late May and June, five sea turtles washed ashore on Delaware's beaches. Then, over last weekend, six more dead turtles were found.

Along New Jersey beaches, four dead sea turtles washed in on Sunday alone. And along the Virginia coast, the number of dead turtles was abnormally high during May.

State and federal officials who monitor sea turtle populations said they do not know if the numbers indicate any problem.

"This time of year, turtles are migrating," said Edna Stetzer, a Delaware biologist. "They might be more concentrated."

And several days of onshore winds may have driven dead and dying turtles - creatures that would typically not be discovered - onto beaches in the area, said Suzanne Thurman, executive director of the MERR Institute, Delaware's marine stranding organization.

Kate Sampson, the federal sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator in the region, said federal, state, and regional stranding coordinators from Maine to Virginia are gathering for planned quarterly meetings next week and will discuss what they have been seeing.

Sampson said that turtles typically begin arriving along the Virginia coast in April and May, then move north. The Chesapeake and Delaware Bays are popular summer feeding grounds for young loggerhead turtles.

"Once turtles start moving into an area, the strandings start to increase," she said.

The concern in Virginia is that strandings in May numbered 58. So far in June, there have been 39, she said. Normally, those numbers would be reversed.

"What is that all about?" she said. "So far, there is no one smoking gun."

One factor may be the impact from a warmer-than-usual winter and early spring - something that affected everything from horseshoe crab spawning to plant flowering.

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