Merry Christmas to the Sea Turtles

Here is a story about 50 individuals who were not enthusiastic about a White Christmas in Massachusetts. Now they are living free of state income tax in Florida…

Every year it seems that young Kemp’s ridley sea turtles get caught in the Gulf Stream and travel farther north than planned. Volunteers and NOAA officials gather these lost souls from the beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and bring them to the New England Aquarium‘s turtle hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts. The turtles are cold and weak when they arrive and are gradually warmed up and fed. Once they’re healthy they can be loaded into towel-lined banana boxes for a journey to warmer waters.

Unfortunately, turtles can’t go as conventional air freight due to stringent temperature requirements (68-75F). The Turtles Fly Too organization matches up volunteer pilots with turtles and thus on December 8 my friend Tom and I found ourselves fighting winter headwinds from Hanscom Field to Tampa International. The day started around 3:00 am for the NOAA and Aquarium folks. They pulled the NOAA van into the Rectrix hangar around 6:45 am and were given a royal welcome by the full staff. Everyone helped load up the Pilatus PC-12 through the massive cargo door and Rectrix immediately towed us out on the ramp. We had pre-flighted the airplane the night before so we were able to start up and crank on the heat before the turtles could get cold. After about three hours we stopped at the Richmond Jet Center for a quick refueling and then proceeded through sometimes turbulent and/or icy clouds to Signature Flight Support in Tampa. The Signature folks had arranged for vans from four public aquariums to be waiting for us on the ramp (see the rock star welcome in the photos). Eventually the turtles should be strong enough to be released back into the ocean.

An intelligent person would have stayed two nights in Tampa and had three dinners at Bern’s Steak House. The parent of young children, however, had to get back into the turboprop for what should have been an easy trip back to Boston, but turned out to involve much more widespread and severe convection than forecast. We were able to climb over the top of nearly all of this weather, but only barely! (the Pilatus has a service ceiling of FL300 or 30,000′) We landed in the dark at around 9:00 pm. A mechanic from Tradewind reinstalled the rear bench seat the next day and the plane was ready to resume its life ferrying charter customers.

What did I learn on this trip? That it is considered a microaggression to refer to these animals as “Ridley Scott turtles.” Also that top quality FBOs such as Rectrix, Signature, and the Richmond Jet Center can pull out an extra stop or two when you use the “sea turtle” password.

Merry Christmas to everyone! And remember that if the turtles can escape the misery of the Northeast you probably can too!


9 thoughts on “Merry Christmas to the Sea Turtles

  1. To add to the J’s point:

    Not only that, but is isn’t the most wasteful thing to correct *naturally* occurring phenomenon?

    Also, it would be fitting to fly them on Gulfstream, you know…

  2. SK: One of the motivational posters at my former union job (for Delta Airlines) was the starfish parable (see for example). We were supposed to recognize that when the entire system melted down and none of the flights were going on schedule and hundreds or thousands of passengers were seemingly hopelessly embittered we could still help one or two passengers with a personal touch (this was in 2008 so a “personal touch” was not necessarily considered assault). So we can say “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

    Also, I’m not sure that there is anything “natural” about the sea turtles’ current environment. Their breeding grounds are messed up with electric lights on the shore. As they swim around in the ocean their navigation is messed up with various electric lights. And of course we are polluting the oceans. So if we broke it, what is wrong with trying to fix it? (though on the third hand, burning Jet A may not be the smartest fix!)

  3. Second awesomeness of gesture, but wonder if it will eventually result in a race of super Ridleys that can fly themselves. With nothing better to do, surely the more motivated of the first batch observed Phil and his copilot, and reported back to their peers, ‘ …and remember to check gear down before landing plane’

  4. Won’t someone think of the starving Massachusetts crabs who would have feasted on the turtle carcasses? Those poor, poor crabs.

  5. Bunch of turbine-pwered flyboys overriding the natural selection of navigationally-impaired Testudines. Now watch ’em run amok in the gene pool. The turtles, not the pilots.

  6. Technically, would it work to stick them in a Dodge Caravan and drive them down? Looks like a 22 hour trip. Long day, but maybe OK for two drivers. Fifty gallons of unleaded…

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