Turtle Troubles- What to do if I find a turtle?


Spring is the time of year when nature comes to life.  Trees are blooming, grass is growing, and animals of all types are becoming more active and this includes turtles.  Adult turtles hibernate during the cold winter months and baby turtles that hatched in the fall most likely stayed in the nest until the warming spring temperature told them it was time to awaken and venture out.  We had a very mild winter, and so far a warm spring, which has led to these hatchlings searching for a place to call home. Lately, we have been getting many calls from concerned homeowners that they have found a turtle, asking if they can bring it to us, so we decided to put together some information to help you, help the turtles. 

Why am I seeing so many turtles right now?

  • Turtle hatchlings often wander into places that they are not supposed to be because they are trying to find suitable habitat.  If they are in a high traffic area, such as your driveway or another area that is bothersome to you, simply rehome them to a more protected area.
  • In the spring and summer months, most adult turtles are becoming more active and often searching for mates.

Please note that while it may be tempting to bring juvenile turtles to Phillips Wharf because they are so small and might be attractive to predators, they are wild animals and they shouldn’t be removed from their home.

What types of turtles might I find and how do I help them if found?

  • Diamondback Terrapins have a greyish skin and patterned shells. You can help them to the nearest source of brackish water, but do not put them directly in the water. Simply placing them along the shore, preferably near a calm area with marshy plants will give them their best shot at survival. 

    Diamondback Terrapin

  • Painted turtles are another commonly found turtle in the area. Painted turtles have black and yellow shells and are a freshwater species. You can help them along to the nearest pond or stream in the area.

  • Box turtles may be seen on the side of the road or attempting to cross. You can help them cross the road (in the same direction that they are traveling) and place them in the woods if it is safe to do so.  If you find them in your yard, move them to a wooded or brush filled area. Do not move them far from the area where you found them because their instinct is to go back to their home territory.
  • Snapping turtles are also common in this area and may be seen crossing roadways. They have a strong bite and can be pretty heavy so it's best to coax them along with a stick or shovel if you have it. Never pull them by the tail as it can damage their spine.  If you find them in your yard try getting them into a box, or on a blanket or tarp so you can easily move them. Snapping turtles live most of their life in the water so once you capture them, release them on the water's edge and they will decide where to go from there.

What types of turtles will Phillips Wharf accept?

We accept all species of turtles but only if they are injured or visibly sick.  It is often instinct to want to help any animal that we find but we must remember that they are wild animals and their natural environment is the best place for them if they are healthy and uninjured.  We ask that if you find a turtle on the road or in your yard, help it to the nearest safe place as outlined above, in order to give it the best chance of survival and a happy, healthy life.  

In the case that you find an injured or sick turtle please give us a call at 410-886-9200 and we will inform you of how to proceed.  Please do not drop them off or bring them without contacting us first. Due to COVID 19 we are currently working with a skeleton crew on property and need to make proper arrangements ahead of time to take possession of injured turtles or get them the help needed.

We have successfully rehabilitated and released many turtles back to the wild. The turtles that are unable to return to the wild live out their days in the Phillips Wharf Estuarium as a learning tool to teach visitors about the animals that reside in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Examples of injured turtles:

  • Cracked shells (vehicular injuries)
  • Bodily cuts/lacerations that are new or actively bleeding
  • Excess mucus in their oral cavities (seen as bubbles in the mouth), nasal discharge, wheezing, stretching the neck out with each breath and open-mouth breathing or gasping
  • Swelling of the eyelids (often with a pus-like discharge), swelling of the ear (actually an ear abscess)

We hope that you find this information useful.  Happy Spring!


                        Sarah Moffatt                          

Phillips Wharf Aquaria & Nursery Manager

Sarah originally joined Phillips Wharf us as a fall intern, then took a position with us as a full-time Americorps member, and finally joined PWEC in an official capacity in August of 2019.  She manages and maintains our Estuarium, looking after the health and well-being of the animals in our care.  This spring she acquired a new role of Oyster Nursery Manager, where she we grow millions of oysters from larvae.