Rare sea turtles receive life-saving care at Institute for Marine Mammal Studies

GULFPORT, Miss. (WXXV) — They’re a critically endangered species and loners by nature, so it’s not every day you see a cluster of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles – much less 20 of them all in one spot.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is one of two South Mississippi locations where these rare sea turtles have landed for life-saving care.

By air, land, and sea, workers with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport have had their hands full the past week, releasing two rehabbed sea turtles just south of Horn Island last Thursday and now it’s all hands-on deck on this, the morning after IMMS took in 20 rare Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles flown in from Massachusetts after running into not hot water, but dangerously cold water while migrating south.

IMMS has some extra help gauging things though. Thanks to these students and residents from Mississippi State University’s veterinary school who made a special trip to help out. They won’t walk away empty handed either. Second Year Population Resident Alexis Thompson said, “Sea turtles are not a normal species we see at Mississippi State. We’re a little further away from waters, so this is a great experience for students to get hands-on learning with sea turtles as well as other wildlife we might not see in other portions of the country.”

Once these turtles are rehabbed, they’ll also be released in the warm waters of the Mississippi Sound. IMMS Standing Coordinator Theresa Madrigal said, “It’s definitely going to take a couple of weeks to possibly a few months. These animals are coming in pretty critically sick. They do stabilize them before they fly them down here from New England, but their treatment plans can be ongoing. They can develop secondary infections like pneumonia, so we’ll be watching out for those things.”

Hopefully all 20 of these turtles will eventually make their way into the warmer waters of the Mississippi Sound where IMMS researchers released Magnolia the green sea turtle and Toni the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle last Thursday. According to their satellite trackers, they’ve gone their separate ways, but are both providing invaluable data. IMMS President Dr. Moby Solangi said, “The satellite keeps on sending a message each time they take a breath. They show their movement and migration patterns. The Mississippi Sound and adjacent waters, they are impacted by the Bonnet Carre, by hurricanes and so many other factors. We want these animals to tell us a story instead of us having to guestimate.”

In all, 45 Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles were flown into Gulfport from Cape Cod for care yesterday. Twenty-five of those turtles are being cared for at the Mississippi Aquarium.

Here’s a list of students and residents from Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine who are helping the IMMS with these sea turtles: students Kylie Roux, Zoe Dudiak, Amanda Rowe, Charlsie Hicks and Graham Smith, along with residents Alexis Thompson and Hannah Urig.

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