Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
Massachusetts Audubon Society volunteers recovered about 120 "cold-stunned" sea turtles during the weekend after strong winds caused them to wash up on the shores of Cape Cod Bay.

The majority of the reptiles found on the beaches of Wellfleet, Truro, Eastham, and Brewster were Kemp's ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species and the rarest type of sea turtle.

It was an unusually large late-season stranding for the turtles, who most often get stuck on Cape Cod shores around Thanksgiving as they try to make their way south to warmer waters for the winter.

Young sea turtles often feed in Cape Cod Bay during the summer but can get trapped in the "hook" of the Cape and become hypothermic as temperatures drop, according to Mass Audubon.

Despite their rarity, Kemp's ridleys are the type of turtle most often found stranded on Massachusetts beaches.

In other years, most turtles still stranded in the bay by now would likely be dead, said Bob Prescott, a spokesman for Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. But because of warmer-than-normal temperatures, 60 percent of the animals were still alive when rescuers arrived.

"It's normally way less than that at this time of year," Prescott said, adding that his volunteers are "very, very fussy about rescuing any turtle with a spark of life."

Volunteers drove the surviving turtles to the New England Aquarium's animal care facility in Quincy for medical care and rehabilitation, where they will be warmed up slowly over the next few days, Prescott said.

Turtles that died of hypothermia before rescuers arrived will undergo necropsies for scientific research.

Volunteers had already rescued more than 200 turtles since the beginning of November, prior to this weekend.

While the tally falls well short of last year's record 1,200 turtle strandings, Prescott said this year could still surpass the 413 stranded in 2012, the second-largest stranding year.