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Winter Weather Blamed for Pelican and Sea Turtle Deaths in Florida Panhandle

First Posted: Feb 03, 2014 10:19 AM EST

Wildlife along the Florida Panhandle has recently experienced significant injuries and deaths due to a winter storm that struck the area.

According to The Miami Herald, more than 130 cold-stunned endangered and threatened sea turtles were rescued Thursday and Friday with a dozen more found dead along the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

"With all the bridges being closed, we were not able to do what we really needed to do," Seashore biologist Mark Nicholas said, via the news organization. "Time is of the essence."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency lab on the Pensacola Beach, sea turtles go into a catatonic state after they suffer from the reptile version of hypothermia. Due to the dangerous weather conditions, rescue workers had difficulties getting to the animals in time. 

"With all the bridges being closed, we were not able to do what we really needed to do," Nicholas said, via The Pensacola News Journal. "Time is of the essence."

Freezing rain and low tides were most likely to blame for the death of much wildlife near the area, according to FWC wildlife biologist Alley Foley, who adds that unlike marine mammals-including dolphins and manatees-sea turtles do not carry the ability to keep themselves warm.

At temperatures of less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers note that sea turtles may have had difficulty moving through water and were pushed to marsh areas that could cause death due to harsh floating conditions.

Foley also said that he saw dead lady fish, sea urchins and horseshoe crabs while searching for the sea turtles. Five pelicans were also rescued from hypothermia on the rescue mission. 

The sanctuary staff remains prepared to take in any birds or wildlife suffering from the cold, according to Wildlife Sanctuary director of Northwest Florida, Dorothy Kaufman.

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