A Message from Long Lost Goose!

I was very excited this morning when I logged into my email account and found a message from Goose, the green sea turtle! In case you've forgotten or never got a chance to "meet" Goose... we satellite tagged and released Goose from a Cape Cod beach in August 2009 (see picture below) after about nine months of rehabilitation.

Transmissions from the satellite tag allowed us to follow Goose's progress through mid November, when the tag stopped functioning. We weren't sure if we'd ever hear from Goose again. Then yesterday, all of a sudden, there were several messages from the tag that pinpointed Goose's location offshore of Maryland. The surface temperature in that area is over 70 degrees due to the Gulf Stream. Goose can stay there comfortably for a long, long time.

We are so excited to continue to track Goose's progress. If you'd like to follow Goose, as well, you can go to http://www.seaturtle.org/. The tag will transmit once a week from now until the battery runs out, so we hopefully can follow Goose for another few months.


Circle of Life

Last week, Connie blogged about a bronchoscopy conducted by Aquarium veterinarians to assess the severity of the pneumonia in the green sea turtle, #21. I know a lot of people were following this case and I wanted to share the unfortunate news that even after all the procedures, medications and TLC, #21 died on Sunday morning. #21 was definitely a fighter who hung on longer than any of us expected, but ultimately the infection and swelling of the lungs proved too severe for recovery.

#21 (on right) listed strongly to the left due to pneumonia in the left lung.

Although this season has been difficult with many turtles in very poor condition when they stranded, we have had remarkable success with many of the turtles. Most of the turtles are starting to eat again and are on the long road to recovery. There are still several turtles that are in our critical care area and we are treating them aggressively with the hopes that they will all soon be in our recovery room actively feeding to gain weight and strength.



First sign of winter isn't snow for the Rescue team...

Hi all,

For the Rescue staff the first sign of winter isn't the cold or the snow, it's the arrival of the arctic seals. This morning I received a call from a local police department about a seal on the beach. As most of you know, seals are semi-aquatic and routinely rest on shore or on rock clusters along the coast. As long as we don't see signs of traumatic injury, significant weight loss, or signs of disease, seals are placed on a 24-72 hour watch. The length of the watch depends on the species, age class and overall visual health of each animal.

Arctic seals, like the adult harp seal in the photos below, appear on our beaches in the winter time. When they come out to rest they often stay out between 1and 3 days before moving on. As we have mentioned before on this blog, seals are opportunistic feeders and do not need to eat daily.
Some of you may remember the wayward adult harp seal that swam way up the Saugus River last winter and had to be collected and transported back to the ocean by our team - it was a bit of a media event.

And for those of you about to email us asking for the location of this animal...I'll save you the time. We never disclose the location of the animals until after they leave the area. If you've been following this blog then you will remember a little federal law called the Marine Mammal Protection Act that forbids people from approaching marine mammals. They come out to rest and they best way for them to accomplish that is to get a little peace and quiet. Please enjoy the photos though.

I "deputized " a citizen to do a close approach to obtain  photos so I could assess the animal's overall condition. The coloration on this animal is typical of an adult harp seal. Another caller notified me of this animal and mentioned that the seal "barked" at him. Harp seals are known to be very vocal animals. (Photo taken by Robert Sheridan)

This animal is bright and alert and currently not in need of medical attention. The animal will be checked twice a day for attitude, alertness and body condition.

- Connie


Christmas in the Turtle Ward


What a beautiful morning here at NEAq. While the Aquarium is closed to the public on Christmas, the place was bustling inside. Staff members were all over the building feeding animals, cleaning exhibits, testing water chemistry, and in the case of the sea turtles, completing medical treatments.

I had to run over the the Ocean Center for additional medical supplies and caught this beautiful shot on my way back into the main Aquarium building (yes as you can tell from the blog I am rarely without a camera!). You can see the beautiful sunshine and the fog bank offshore.

With a full turtle ward, we certainly need a lot of help, even on Christmas. We're very grateful to our volunteers, who gave up their holiday to come in and help with turtle treatments, feeding and cleaning.

Happy Holidays to all creatures great and small.

- Connie


Bronchoscopy on #21

Hi all,

Yesterday we performed a bronchoscopy on # 21, a green sea turtle. # 21 has severe pneumonia, far worse in the left lung. This animal is on the critical list and being monitored constantly. Radiographs (X-Rays) showed that the left lung is collapsed, most likely from the disease. The Aquarium's chief veterinarian, Dr. Charlie Innis, determined that a bronchoscopy was necessary. During the bronchoscopy, a 2.7mm scope with a magnifying camera is inserted into the trachea, bronchus and lungs to provide a view of the condition of the tissues. This procedure is performed in the same manner as it is in human medicine.

In this photo you can clearly see # 21's severe list to the left. Since the left lung is 
collapsed, there is no air in that lung. The right lung contains air making that side buoyant.

The exam revealed significant amounts of mucoid debris in the left lung, as we suspected. Once the vets gained enough information about the condition of the lungs we performed a sterile saline lavage and suction to remove as much of the mucoid debris as possible.

This turtle remains on the critical list. After watching #21 swim in one of the hospital tanks this morning, we have restricted his swimming to a kiddy pool to help with breathing and to maintain energy reserves. The animal is on systemic medications and receives nebulizer treatments daily to resolve the pneumonia. The road to recovery will be long and difficult for this little turtle; the next seven to ten days will be the most critical.

- Connie


# 85

Hi all,

I am very sorry to report that we lost #85 this morning. #85 was the little Kemp's Ridley sea turtle that I wrote about last week when I highlighted a number of critical cases. Most of you will remember #85 from his time on the surf board. He was a very sick turtle and would tire quickly in the pool. His breathing was never normal, however he would breath better in the pool than when resting in a sea turtle transport box. I put him on the foam pad to facilitate breathing and allow him to float around the pool. From his foam pad he would watch the other turtles swimming around.

Dr. Innis had this animal on the critical list where he was monitored several times a day and medications and treatments adjusted as needed. In the end, the effects of severe hypothermia were too much even for constant care and the highest level of veterinary medicine. Yesterday his energy level sharply declined and he took a turn for the worst and we lost him this morning.

Thanks to all who posted comments of support for this animal. Your comments do make it to the Rescue staff and they are greatly appreciated.

- Connie


Turtle update, the new and the old

Hi all,

One new turtle arrived today. Number 119, a green sea turtle, arrived with an internal temperature of about 44 degrees (F). This animal was responsive but very slow and in poor health, as you might imagine.

 #119 during the first supervised swim in the kiddie pool. 
The animal didn't swim, but being in the water facilitated good breathing.

The two arrivals from yesterday are more active today but still in guarded condition.

As promised, I'll provide a brief update on #57 (nebulizer turtle) and #85 (surf board turtle).
Yesterday I mentioned that #57 has severe pneumonia and that we began nebulizer treatments. These treatments are much like an inhaler for human patients. Medications are vaporized and breathed directly into the lungs. In order to achieve this in a sea turtle, we place the turtle in a box and administer the vaporized medication into the box.

# 85 was a more active today and only needed the surf board once for a short time. I am still not allowing him to stay in the pool overnight as he tires easily and still does not have a normal swim pattern. I offered him food today but he had no interest. He still is not lifting his head properly to breath and remains on the critical list.

Since I've focused on some of the critical cases over the past few days, I thought I'd tell you some success stories as well. We have many turtles that have started to eat on their own. Green sea turtles tend to be great foragers once they recover from hypothermia. In the photo below are three green turtles that are improving daily and eating very well.

- Connie


Good News and Bad News

Hi all,

There's good news and bad news today. I'm sorry to report that we lost #16 last night. Dr. Cavin was still working on him at the time I wrote last night's blog. After we lost him, Dr. Cavin performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) to see if we could learn why he died. She discovered that his lungs were severely diseased. She took cultures of the lung tissue and sent them to the lab for analysis. She also took photos so the rest of the Rescue staff and the Animal Health staff could see the extent of the disease. I will not include those due to their graphic nature.

On the good news front, #85 (the little Kemp's Ridley on the "surf board") is still with us. He was a little more active today but still having issues with his breathing. His blood work looks a little better, however the breathing issue is very concerning. His condition is still listed as critical at this point. He spent the day alternating between supervised swims, floating on his foam pad and resting in a sea turtle transport box.

Here #85 takes a supervised swim in the pool.

The other case I highlighted last night is also still with us. Number 57 began specialized treatments today for his pneumonia and will be nebulized twice a day until the vets discontinue that treatment. I'll post photos of this treatment tomorrow.

Two new turtles arrived this evening, #117 and #118. Both are Kemp's ridley sea turtles and were alert and responsive despite the fact that their core body temperatures were in the high 40s (F).

- Connie

Click here to find out what you can do to help the New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Team.

A Glimpse of Sea Turtle Intensive Care

Hi all,

As you have seen from recent posts (here, here, here and here), we've been incredibly busy saving cold stunned sea turtles. Some of these animals are arriving with internal body temperatures in the 40s (F). Those that come in at these lower temperatures often require intensive therapy. Below are a few such cases we have been working with over the past several days.

In the above photo, Dr. Julie Cavin uses a portable ultrasound machine on #16 to collect a heart rate.

These photos are of turtle #85 on a "surf board."

Rescued turtle #85 is a critical Kemp's ridley who's poor condition upon arrival to the Aquarium necessitated emergency drug therapy. One of the emergency medications included a respiratory stimulant. The stimulant worked for a period of time however the animal was later placed on a ventilator for several hours. Number 85 spent two days in and out of the intensive care unit, coming out only for supervised swims in kiddie pools and treatments/medications. Today #85 improved enough for some supervised exercise in the sea turtle ward. In the above left photo, I gave #85 some swim time in the "big boy pool." He grew tired quickly, however I notice his breathing was better in the pool. I wanted to keep him in the pool but without using up his limited energy resources so I decided to make him a "surf board." It worked beautifully, he was breathing very well on the little foam pad and could watch the other turtles swimming around. #85 will be in guarded condition until we see marked improvements, I'm holding out hope.

Tomorrow brings new challenges for all the turtles, but none more than the most critical, such as the ones I've featured on this page. We continue to work tirelessly to save these incredible animals and greatly appreciate all the words of support and encouragement from so many of you.


- Connie


Are there enough National Parks to name all these turtles?!

You may remember that the naming theme for turtles this year is National Parks. We have been receiving lots of turtles this season, but we won't be in a shortage of names so don't worry!

We are using the names of places that are run by the National Park Service, which gives us a larger list of choices. This includes national monuments, national seashores and more. Check out the NPS website to see our numerous choices!

Rescued turtle warming up in the Aquarium's overflow holding area.

Rescued turtle warming up in the Aquarium's overflow holding area. Read more here.

Some examples of names we have so far are Denali, Ellis Island, Zion and Tonto. Though the turtles are being given nicknames, we are still referring to them by number or band color for now because of the large numbers of animals. It is easier to keep track of them that way, but we will have no trouble continuing with the naming theme for the season!


Acadia Goes to Maine!

Acadia, the loggerhead sea turtle, was transported to the University of New England Marine Animal Rehab Center (MARC) last week. As turtles continue to arrive at the Aquarium, we needed to open up tank space, and the 160-pound turtle took up lots of it! We were sad to see her go because we have all grown quite fond of her, but we are also excited to see her go to her next phase of rehabilitation at MARC.

MARC staff has been keeping us updated, and they report that Acadia is doing well. She was swimming in her new tank shortly after arriving there. She will be very well taken care of by MARC staff and volunteers. It is also appropriate that she is in Maine, where Acadia National Park is located!

Bandelier, our first Kemp's ridley turtle of the season, also went to MARC with Acadia. He is doing well also. We will continue to pass on Acadia and Bandelier's progress as we get updates from MARC. Thank you to MARC staff and volunteers for helping us during this busy turtle season!



A great wave-More than 60 sea turtles treated so far!

We thought we had a lot of turtles last week. Well, this week brought even more! On Monday alone, 15 cold-stunned turtles arrived from Cape Cod and another five today, kicking our rescue efforts into high gear. Biologists and veterinarians on our team are treating the animals for severe hypothermia and dehydration, pneumonia and sometimes cuts and bruises.

New sea turtle patients in the Aquarium's Ocean Center

Our animal care facilities are buzzing with activity and we are taking over other areas in the Aquarium too. Since many of these animals are too weak to swim, we dropped the thermostat in a conference room to make a comfortable cool space for the new arrivals (see photos). Once a turtle is doing a little better, it may complete it's rehab here at the Aquarium or travel to one of our partners for the lengthy rehabilitation process. We rely on a network to make sure each reptile gets the care and attention it needs.



Sea Turtle Fluid Injection Video

After obtaining blood from our turtles the veterinarians establish a fluid plan from the results. Here you can see a rescue rehab team member administering those fluids subcutaneously (below the skin). These are the same types of fluids administered to humans for dehydration.

The majority of the turtles seem to be doing well, however it is very early in the rehabilitation process to know for sure. They have overcome one major hurdle which was to be spotted on the beach by a Wellfleet Audubon member and transported to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation.



That's a lot of turtles

They have arrived! A little while ago we posted an entry wondering when the yearly influx of cold-stunned sea turtles would arrive. This weekend that question was answered. The Aquarium now has more than 30 recovering turtles! These pictures say it all (click to enlarge).

Starting last week the sea turtles started coming in (there was some news coverage from Channel 7). We started with one Kemp's ridley on Tuesday November 24 and took in two per day on Wednesday and Thursday then on Saturday we received five more. On Sunday we hit the mother load! Fifteen turtles arrived at about 3:00 p.m., 13 Kemp's ridleys and two green sea turtles. Since Sunday we have received four more turtles.

Here's a video of what the Sea Turtle Recovery Room looks like now.

You can stop by the Aquarium and see these recovering patients. If you do, be sure to leave a comment and tell us what you saw. We'll keep you updated on the status of these patients and profile some individuals in the coming weeks.



Injured seal update: Photos from treatment at the University of New England

Hi all,

Back on November 5, I blogged about a stranded seal on Humarock Beach with facial injuries. The staff at the University of New England (UNE) recently sent photos of this animal and a medical update.

Upon initial exam, the UNE staff treated an approximately 3.5 inch long laceration on the animal's lower jaw. They also found several lesions around the mouth, which were cleaned and treated. The laceration was the source of all the blood you saw in the initial post.

These photos were taken by the UNE staff using the remote camera system in the rehabilitation bay where this seal is recovering.

The photo above is not the greatest quality but it does show the partially healed injury to the lower jaw.

Seriously people, how cute is this photo! As you can see the seal is sticking out his tongue, while sleeping.

According to our colleagues at UNE this animal is also recovering from a respiratory infection. The animal is on antibiotics and is showing positive signs of improvements.

- Connie



Still waiting for the sea turtles...

We are still waiting for the seasonal influx stranded sea turtles to start coming in. Usually we have many more patients than what we currently have. So far we haven't had as many stranded sea turtles this year. A couple of factors that may be keeping the turtles off the beaches are warmer weather and wind direction. We hope it may also mean that more turtles were able to get around and out of Cape Cod bay before the water gets too cold.
At this time of year, we expect the clinic to look like this.

But as we wait I thought I would take you through what will happen to a turtle as it goes through the initial triage process.

First, the turtle gets an initial exam. This includes weights and measurements, as well as blood draws and an overall body checkup. A heart rate and respiratory rate are taken. Turtles routinely come in with heart rates of 1 beat per minute and respiratory rates of 1 breathe every 15-20 mins. We look for any obvious injuries and palpate for possible breaks in the flippers. The turtle's eyes are stained to check for abrasions or ulcerations. We gauge the animal's activity level and we note algal cover.

We then start getting the turtle back up to a normal temperature slowly over a period of several days. This is accomplished in two ways. The first way is with the Aquarium Medical Center's ICU. We keep the turtles in here when they are not swimming. This allows us to control the temperature the turtles are recovering in. The other way is by swimming them in different temperatures of water. Everyday we increase the temperature of the pools until they are at the turtle’s optimal temperature. The first swim they take with us is in fresh water which helps rehydrate the turtle and kills off the majority of saltwater epibiota (algae, barnacles etc.) on the turtle.

Once we get blood results back, the turtle then receives fluid therapy specialized for each turtle. Low glucose and the turtle would get a fluids containing dextrose. Low potassium and we add potassium to the hydration. Then if the turtle is strong enough and the blood work is OK the turtle gets to keep swimming overnight. If the turtle needs more rest it gets put back in the ICU for a good night's sleep.

So as we wait for more turtles, we continue to care for our two current patients, Acadia and Bandelier. Both are still doing well.




Goose Finally Heads South

We have been keeping an eye on Goose, the green sea turtle, who was released on August 27, 2009 with a satellite tag so that we could track him. For the past couple months, Goose has been hanging out in Long Island Sound. We expected him to head east to the Gulf stream or south, but he stayed in Long Island Sound for quite some time. We were starting to get worried! Luckily, the hits we got from his tag yesterday show that he has made it out of the sound and is heading south. This is great news.

If you would like to follow Goose's track, visit seaturtle.org. You will notice that the map is updated weekly, since we have the tag only transmitting one day per week in order to save battery life. You can sign up to receive email updates or even adopt Goose!




To Crab or Not to Crab? That is the Question.

The goal of rehabilitation is to release the animals back into the wild, and there are many things we do here to make sure our sea turtles are ready. One part is to offer the turtles live food like they would eat in the wild, and for Kemp's ridleys and loggerhead sea turtles, this includes crabs. The crabs we offer are species that are found right here in the Boston Harbor, including the rock crab and the green crab.

We have to make sure the turtles are stable enough and their gastrointestinal tract (GI) is clear. When cold-stunned turtles first arrive, their GI tends to be full of food parts (including crab claws) that are not moving through the digestive system in their initial debilitated state. We monitor the GI by radiographs and observation of bowel movements. We also look at the fecal samples under the microscope to look for parasites like we found in Acadia.

The picture on the left is Bandelier's initial radiograph. Notice the condensed areas in the middle of the x-ray. That is digestive material in his intestines. The picture on the right is Bandelier's radiograph two weeks later. You can see that material is moving through his digestive tract which is a good sign.

Once everything is working properly and there is a normal parasite load, we will start to offer crabs to the turtle. It is not unusual for some turtles to ignore the crabs in the beginning since they prefer their restaurant quality herring and squid, but after some time they figure out how to be a turtle again and start the process of preparing for release.

Casper, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle from the 2008 season, eats his first crab.

Acadia still needs some time for us to monitor her parasite load and we will continue to monitor her digestive system through radiographs. We won't be surprised if she's eating crabs very soon!

~Kerry and Jill



Just Keep Swimming...

Bandelier stranded on October 17 and came to the Aquarium the next day. The first thing that we noticed was the defect in his hind flippers.

Notice the abnormality in Bandelier's rear flippers.

We performed x-rays a couple days after his arrival and this is what we found.

The flipper stops just at the end of the tibia/fibula bones on both flippers. This is most likely a congenital (acquired during development) defect rather than an injury. There is no active wound or any signs that imply the turtle did not hatch this way.

Luckily, the anomaly of Bandelier's flippers does not appear to affect his swimming skills. He is very active in his tank, maneuvering extremely well and going after his herring. We expect that this deformity will not inhibit his ability to be released eventually.




The Marine Animal Rescue Team's Jeff Corwin Experience!

Melissa, Jeff and Adam drawing blood on Bandelier.

Yesterday we had a special visit from Jeff Corwin. He came by to take a look at our turtles and hang out for a small while at the aquarium. Jeff has recently finished filming a new documentary for MSNBC, airing on November 22, and he has just had a new book published called 100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth's Most Endangered Species, which tells of the plight of many of the world's most endangered species.

His visit to our Kemp's ridley sea turtle named Bandelier makes perfect sense since Kemp's ridleys are critically endangered and their habitat could easily be decimated by human encroachment and/or global warming. It was very interesting to hear Jeff talk about his experience with hawksbill sea turtles in Indonesia. The tiny population of about 800 hawksbill sea turtles that remain in those waters are illegally hunted for their meat, eggs and shells.

Jeff was very interested in Bandelier's little stump-like rear flippers.

While we discussed the plight of Bandelier, it helped us to look at the bigger picture for the conservation of this and other species of sea turtles. As temperatures rise not only do we have to worry about nesting beaches being lost to rising sea water level but we also have to be concerned about the core nest temperature. The sex of a sea turtle is determined by the nest temperature. As temperatures rise so to will those core temperatures producing only female sea turtles. You can learn more about the effects of climate change on sea turtle populations on the Aquarium's climate change pages.

Sea turtle hatchlings heading to open ocean at Boavista Island (Photo: Daniel Cejudo).

Next Thursday, Bostonians will have an opportunity to meet Jeff Corwin at the New England Aquarium. Even if you can't make the lecture, you can stop by and get a copy of Jeff's new book signed.




The tiny world of marine animal diagnostics

Acadia the rescued loggerhead sea turtle

Part of the rehabilitation process on our animals is collecting blood and fecal samples. Through various diagnostics we can determine many issues that an animal may have.

For Acadia, our loggerhead sea turtle, we were concerned about her anemia, and by looking at a blood smear we were able to see that she was producing new red blood cells that will help with the anemic issue. The cool thing about reptile red blood cells is that they contain a nucleus unlike mammals that lose their nucleus in the blood marrow during erythropoiesis. Other blood smears may show lots of white blood cells (WBC) which may indicate an infection; our Kemp's ridley Crater lake had an extremely high WBC count.

The photo above shows the loggerheads blood smear. The yellow arrow is pointing to an immature red blood cell. Note the darker color and condensed look of the cell in comparison to the other red blood cells. 

We also examine fecal samples under the microscope as well to check for possible parasitic infestations. Jen, another biologist with the rescue group, collected a sample from Acadia and went and looked at it under the microscope in the Aquarium Medical Center with Katie, the AMC veterinary technician. They were able to find some cool things.

They found a copepod. Most likely this was swimming in the water. One problem with aquatic animals is obtaining a "clean" fecal sample as unless it is a formed piece or the animal is out of the water you may get other critters as well. They also found a ciliate, again possibly from the water but may have been in the feces. They also saw some nematodes. Nematodes are a typical gastrointestinal (GI) parasite in adult sea turtles. Because of their presence Acadia got a deworming oral treatment the following day.

Acadia continues to do very well!




Rescuing a Stranded Seal with Injuries - WARNING GRAPHIC PHOTOS

Hi all,

It was a busy day in the field today. This morning we received a call from a person on Humarock Beach in Scituate, Mass. who found a stranded seal. For any of you who have followed this blog you know that seals commonly come out of the water to rest on shore and are often not injured or "stranded." As always it's important to keep your distance and observe the seal without disturbing it. You can report a seal you think is stranded by calling the 24-hour Marine Animal Hotline: (617) 973-5247.

The Rescue Team will not approach these seals unless there is an obvious injury. This seal, however, did have an injury and was lethargic. The following pictures show what that looks like.

Photos above were taken by Donald Armstrong. I authorized Donald to approach this
seal for good photographs, which I then used to make the decision to collect the animal. (Click to enlarge)

Photo by Donald Armstrong. In this photo you can see the blood around the lower jaw and dribbling down the chest of the animal.

Kate and New England Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Julie Cavin took a team down to assess the animal and determined that it did need to be collected. They collected it and performed a physical exam, including blood collection and analysis. It was difficult to determine the source of the blood since there was a significant amount of it.

The seal was kenneled after the exam and transported to the University of New England (UNE) Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. The seal will undergo a series of diagnostics over the next several says to determine the cause of the wounds and its overall health. Our network partners at UNE will have their work cut out for them with this case. We'll keep you posted on her condition (yes it is a little female).

- Connie