Hypothermic stunning of green sea turtles in a western Gulf of Mexico foraging habitat
Shaver, Donna J.
Streich, Mary M.
Walker, J. Shelby
Amos, Anthony F.
George, Jeffrey A.
Pasawicz, Michelle R.
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Texas waters provide one of the most important developmental and foraging habitats for juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the western Gulf of Mexico, but hypothermic stunning is a significant threat and was the largest cause of green turtle strandings in Texas from 1980 through 2015; of the 8,107 green turtles found stranded, 4,529 (55.9%) were victims of hypothermic stunning. Additionally, during this time, 203 hypothermic stunned green turtles were found incidentally captured due to power plant water intake entrapment. Overall, 63.9% of 4,529 hypothermic stunned turtles were found alive, and 92.0% of those survived rehabilitation and were released. Numbers of green turtles recorded as stranded and as affected by hypothermic stunning increased over time, and were most numerous from 2007 through 2015. Large hypothermic stunning events (with more than 450 turtles documented) occurred during the winters of 2009–2010, 2010–2011, 2013–2014, and 2014–2015. Hypothermic stunning was documented between November and March, but peaked at various times depending on passage of severe weather systems. Hypothermic stunning occurred state-wide, but was most prevalent in South Texas, particularly the Laguna Madre. In the Laguna Madre, hypothermic stunning was associated with an abrupt drop in water temperatures strong northerly winds, and a threshold mean water temperature of 8.0°C predicted large turtle hypothermic stunning events. Knowledge of environmental parameters contributing to hypothermic stunning and the temporal and spatial distribution of turtles affected in the past, can aid with formulation of proactive, targeted search and rescue efforts that can ultimately save the lives of many affected individuals, and aid with recovery efforts for this bi-national stock. Such rescue efforts are required under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and respond to humanitarian concerns of the public.
This work was supported by the National Park Service. The funders provided support in the form of salaries for authors [DJS PET MMS JSW CR AFA JAG MRP], but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ’author contributions’ section.
RightsCC0 1.0 Universal
CitationShaver, D.J., Tissot, P.E., Streich, M.M., Walker, J.S., Rubio, C., Amos, A.F., George, J.A. and Pasawicz, M.R., 2017. Hypothermic stunning of green sea turtles in a western Gulf of Mexico foraging habitat. PLoS One, 12(3), p.e0173920.
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