QUINCY, Mass. - Two endangered sea turtles that are shells of their former selves after getting stranded on Cape Cod during a cold spell are getting some help easing back into the wild - from an acupuncturist.
Dexter and Fletcher Moon, juvenile Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, remained calm as acupuncturist Claire McManus gently tapped more than a dozen needles into their grayish-green, leathery skin during a therapy session intended to decrease inflammation and swelling on their front flippers, restore a full range of motion on those limbs and help the animals regain their appetites.
"There aren't a lot of people doing sea turtle acupuncture," said McManus, who works alongside a vet to find parts of the animals' bodies corresponding to locations where acupuncturists put needles to treat front limbs. "There is not a whole lot of literature out there on turtle acupuncture, so I'm basing it on how we treat other animals and humans."
McManus uses particularly thin needles for sea turtle acupuncture.
"The needles, they are tiny, no bigger, like having a mosquito bite. You notice there's no blood," McManus said. "You can probably fit four or five of these inside the type of a needle you'd use to draw blood, so they didn't really feel it."
Dexter and Fletcher Moon were among a record number of more than 400 turtles of various species that got stranded on Cape Cod and the southern Massachusetts shore over the winter.
As cold weather settled over New England, hypothermia set in and rendered the cold-blooded animals immobile and unable to eat for days. As their stunned bodies floated on the sea surface, their limbs were exposed to extremely cold winds that ultimately blew them to the beach. Only 242 of the stranded sea turtles lived, and they were taken to the New England Aquarium's offsite animal care center for treatment.
The turtles arrived because of hypothermia but also had secondary problems, such as pneumonia, and were malnourished.
"They haven't been eating in a couple of weeks, so they don't have the energy that it takes to be able to fight off some of these things," said Connie Merigo, head of the aquarium's marine rescue team.