BIDDEFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - An unusual caravan is about to make its way down the East Coast from Maine to Florida, with stops along the way in Boston and Baltimore.
The temperature-controlled vans will transport dozens of loggerhead turtles that have been brought back from the brink of death.
Fourteen loggerheads spent the last four months recovering from severe hypothermia at the University of New England's Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford.
"These guys came to us December 14th pretty soon after their strandings on on the beaches," said Animal Lab Technician Ashley Simpson, pointing to a swimming pool.
2012 was a record year for sea turtle strandings.
Many were saved thanks to volunteers who patroll Cape Cod's beaches and help get them into a network of rehab centers across the Northeast.
"A lot of times, associated with the strandings, you get turtles with frost bite, you get pneumonia, lung issues," said Simpson.
After months of antibiotics and as many fish as they can eat, the loggerheads are about to be discharged.
Every turtle is weighed, measured and biopsied.
Then they're outfitted with tags; two on the rear flippers and a third microchip ID tag that will tell each turtle's story if it's ever located again.
It's a lot of work rescuing the turtles, but critical for this threatened species survival.
"Their numbers are dwindling due to pollution, climate change, being entangled in fishing gear and loss of nesting habitat," says Kristen Patchett, the Center's Rehabilitation Coordinator.
Of the 14 that were brought here, 13 survived.
"These guys are doing really well, they're eating great, they're healthy. Now they just need to go back to the wild," says Simpson.
On Saturday, they'll join 29 other turtles from the New England Aquarium in Boston. They'll join in a caravan that will end up in Northern Florida where they'll be released back into the Atlantic.
Thanks to this new lease on life, they could live another 50 years or longer.