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Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Cold Sea Turtles Cared for By Disney Animal Programs Cast Members

Blair Witherington

by , Senior Sea Turtle Biologist

Eight cold-stressed Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were treated in recent weeks by Disney Animal Programs cast members. These were among hundreds of cold-stunned turtles that washed ashore at Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, following a sudden cold spell. The turtles were collected by volunteers from Massachusetts Audubon, and then taken to the New England Aquarium’s Rehabilitation Center in Quincy, Massachusetts, to be stabilized and warmed. When the turtles were ready for travel, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF), transported and loaded 193 critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into a US Coast Guard plane for the trip south!


Kemp’s ridleys are the rarest sea turtles in the world. The turtles being treated and warmed at Disney each weigh about five pounds and are two to three years old. This is an age at which little Kemp’s ridleys have just moved into coastal waters from the open sea. Most Kemp’s ridleys grow up in the Gulf of Mexico, but some are carried out of the Gulf and up the Atlantic coast by strong currents. These little turtles move into bays and estuaries from Massachusetts to Florida. During warmer months, there are lots of blue crabs and other crustaceans for ridleys to eat in these waters. When winter arrives, the turtles typically swim south to avoid cold water. However, if there is a sudden cold snap, the turtles can become trapped in the bays.

Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Cold Sea Turtles Cared for by Disney Animal Programs Cast Members! Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Cold Sea Turtles Cared for by Disney Animal Programs Cast Members!

Sea turtles enjoy warm water and have a body temperature about the same as the water that surrounds them. When the water temperature dips below 45 degrees, turtles get chilled, lose their ability to swim, and immobile turtles begin to wash ashore.

Normally, ridleys and other sea turtles anticipate cold weather and move south in the fall. But the sandy spit of Cape Cod makes this seasonal migration a special challenge. The cape hooks out into the Atlantic and catches southbound turtles, which collect within Cape Cod Bay. Turtles caught in the bay can find their way back out, except when the onset of frigid weather is rapid, like it was in recent weeks. Under these conditions, turtles in the bay are literally caught out in the cold, and a sea turtle cold-stunning event occurs.

Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Cold Sea Turtles Cared for by Disney Animal Programs Cast Members! Special Edition Wildlife Friday: Cold Sea Turtles Cared for by Disney Animal Programs Cast Members!

Emergencies such as this cold-stunning event often require a fast response. Through the DWCF Rapid Response Fund, we are able to provide emergency support to help animals when they need it most, like we did for these young endangered turtles.

The young Kemp’s ridleys taken in by Disney are now swimming in a backstage location at The Seas with Nemo & Friends to regain their strength. Plans are to release these rare turtles into warm Florida waters as soon as they are well.

Here at Disney, we hope to make an impact that will ensure that future generations will continue to be inspired and delighted by sea turtles. To that end, we have worked to protect endangered sea turtles by providing grants to conservation nonprofits through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Disney has helped support 115 projects protecting sea turtles and their habitat, with more than $1.8 million in funds since 1998.

Check out this video for behind-the-scenes footage of this rescue effort!


  • Dear Mr. Blair,
    Do you have an update on the Young Kemp’s turtle your team rescued with you in December? How are they? Hope they are all recovering? And did you name them or just number them? Have a wonderful day.
    Kindest Regards to you and your Team .

  • Oh thank you Mr. Blair,
    And the massive team involved in this rescue of these beautiful indangered Turtles! I walk the Clearwater East coast side of the beaches make sure that our Turtles make it to land to dig their nest and have manages to help some stragglers make it to the water.
    It is the most joyous thing you can do, because once they are out of water they face a lot of danger teenagers miss behaving, people that don’t turn their light off, it can become very discouraging. This year I found a faimly playing with one of our baby’s He was only 5 years old, that had died because he swilled a fish hock ! I was pleading with then in my broken Spanish not to touch, I was able to get a park ranger to help me and call the Florida Aquarium. A hour later, they took my little friend and their was nothing we could do. This restores my belief in the need that people should know that WDW Animal Kingdom and Epcot, and Disney Vero Beach, are here to help our little friends that can’t fight for them self , when a sudden storm comes in!
    Thank you Coast Card Plane for helping.
    I can only say Disney is more then a theme Park! They help the Animal Kingdom. Big hug to ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR FOR THE UNSELFISH LOVE YOU SHOW OUR SEA TURTLE ! You made my day. I love SEA TURTLE! Million hugs.
    West coast of Florida

  • Welcome to the blog Mr. Blair!

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