Three green sea turtles rescued from chilled waters last week went back into the Gulf Wednesday.
Another eight turtles are still recovering from cold shock at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
"We're just waiting for them to get strong enough to get them back out there," said Mike Anderson, supervisor of the aquarium's sea turtle nesting program.
The eight turtles still in recovery are in quarantine tanks to protect them from infection while their immune systems are compromised from the cold shock.
Under normal circumstances, the turtles, which are native to local Gulf waters, can handle lower water temperatures, but not the sort of sudden plummet that hit the Gulf between Pinellas County and Crystal River, where boaters and rangers discovered the weakened turtles.
"These animals do live and spend a lot of time in shallow water and grass flats," said Anderson. "That's where there was a rapid temperature changes in the water when a strong cold front moved through."
The aquarium fielded 21 reports of turtles in distress. Eight were dead by the time aquarium workers reached them, and two more died in treatment, Anderson said.
With another cold front expected next week, aquarium turtle handlers are getting ready for more turtles. Boaters should call the aquarium at (727) 441-1790 or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before touching turtles that seem lethargic or in distress.
The marine animals may appear to be sick but only be basking at the surface for additional warmth, Anderson said.
The aquarium's turtle experts hope this winter won't bring a repeat of last January, when cold blasts triggered a record number of more than 100 turtle strandings locally.
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