Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles Get Rescue by Charter Jet

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle after rescue flight from Massachusetts to South Carolina.

It is not every day that you get to see a turtle fly, but for one group of the animals, the plane ride from Massachusetts to South Carolina was serious business. For a month now - ever since an unusually mild fall and winter turned brutal in the waters off Massachusetts - cold-stunned sea turtles have been washing up on the coastline. Most were dead; the survivors were in poor condition.

It was more than the New England Aquarium said it could handle on its own. So - through a mix of generosity and luck - a rescue mission was mounted.

An Eclipse 500 charter jet, owned by North American Jets of Charleston, S.C., happened to be in Boston, and the company owner, Mason Holland, agreed to fly any turtles in need of help from Boston to Charleston, where the South Carolina Aquarium runs a turtle hospital.

"They're cold-blooded animals, so their body temperature depends on the water around them, and they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," aquarium spokeswoman Kate Dittloff said. "They didn't migrate south fast enough to escape the cold."

Seven turtles were packed on board Holland's plane and taken to Charleston, where aquarium staff and volunteers took them to the warmer, safer environment of the turtle hospital. Six of them were Kemp's ridley turtles, a species listed as endangered; the seventh was a rare hybrid, half Kemp's ridley and half green sea turtle.

"They'll get warmth, fluids, antibiotics, food and TLC on a daily basis," Dittloff said. They will probably be kept until May or June, when the Atlantic off South Carolina is warmer, she said. Then - with some public fanfare - they'll be taken down to local beaches and let back out to sea.

"They're opportunistic hunters, but they're also not that smart," she said. "Their brains are the size of an almond. That's why they sometimes eat plastic bags - they think they're jellyfish.

"But we get asked, 'Won't they forget how to hunt after so long in recovery?' And the answer is no," she said. "When they're released they go right back to living as usual."