And away they go...

A turtle in a transport box, ready to go.

As mentioned in an earlier blog by our Director Connie Merigo, she and fellow Senior Biologist Kate Sardi packed up a van with Bruce the loggerhead sea turtle and Route the Kemp's ridley sea turtle left the New England Aquarium at 7 pm on April 28. They were joined by six other turtles from the 2008-2009 cold-stun season. One green sea turtle and four Kemp's ridley sea turtles were brought down from the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center at the University of New England in Biddeford Maine. One loggerhead named Godzilla and two Kemp's ridley sea turtles from our 2007-2008 season are also making the journey joining us from the Woods Hole Science Aquarium.

By 4 pm today all the turtles except for Route should be back in the Atlantic Ocean just in time for a fresh seafood dinner!

Route will be continuing rehab at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center before joining the rest of the animals that were released probably some time this summer.



Sea Turtle Enrichment: Goose eats his greens!

In the wild, sea turtles have rocks to rub against, caves to hide in, and vegetation to swim through. At the New England Aquarium, we try to make our sea turtles in rehabilitation as comfortable as possible. To do this, we use environmental enrichment. I reported previously that Goose, our green sea turtle, was not eating his vegetables!

Rescue interns Adrienne and Denise designed and built a lettuce holding device that would allow Goose to be more stimulated to eat the lettuce. The 'lettuce forest,' as we call it, was made to hold the lettuce for Goose to eat as well as give him something to swim or hide in. We tested this for the first time on Friday.

Three different types of lettuce (romaine, kale, and collards) were secured on the contraption, which was then lowered into Goose's tank. At first Goose wanted nothing to do with it!

Eventually he became curious and was hovering over the lettuce.

Then he decided to take a bite and just kept on eating! It was very exciting to see Goose getting the nutrients he needs!

After sampling all the types of lettuce, he started to swim through the leaves and rub his head against the lettuce. He was also nibbling on it every once in a while for the next couple hours.

This whole event was visible in our Sea Turtle Recovery Room [The space that housed the Sea Turtle Recovery Room is now The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank. Rescued sea turtles are now cared for at the new, much larger Animal Care Clinic in Quincy.] and aquarium visitors were able to watch great natural behaviors of green sea turtles. The enrichment was a success and we plan on continuing to offer Goose lettuce using this method. Maybe you'll be able to get a glimpse during your next visit!



Route and Bruce Go South!

Hi all,

Good news in the Rescue Department, Route and Bruce will be heading south to Georgia on Tuesday April 28! In case you haven't been following our blog, Route (pictured left) is an endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle and Bruce is a loggerhead sea turtle. Both stranded this past fall and have been undergoing treatment in the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Clinic.

Senior biologist Kate Sardi and I will be driving Route and Bruce along with 8 other turtles, currently at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium and the University of New England, to Jekyll Island, Georgia. Route will be continuing his rehabilitation at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the others will all be released after our arrival. I'll blog again with some release photos from Georgia so stay tuned for more on our big adventure ...

- Connie


Adult Harp Seal Loses Battle (UPDATE)

Hi all,

For those of you following our blog, I recently wrote about an adult harp seal we collected from Manchester, MA and transported to the Mystic Aquarium for rehabilitation. As you may recall, this animal had hauled out on a marsh and remained there longer then is expected for an adult harp seal.

After field observations revealed that the animal was thin and lethargic (behaviorally depressed), we made the decision to collect it. Upon entrance examination at the Mystic Aquarium, veterinarians took radiographs (x-rays) of this animal and made some significant findings.

This radiograph shows the three bird shot pellets lodged in the soft tissue
of the face of the seal.

They discovered three bird-shot pellets (shown above) lodged in the facial tissue, pneumonia in the lungs and medium and large size rocks filling the stomach. They also collected blood, which revealed that the animal was severely dehydrated. The bird-shot pellets were not new as there were no visible entry wounds. How much of a role that the gunshot wound played in the decline of the animal is difficult to determine. Seals when under stress will sometimes ingest rocks. In some cases, they can be passed, and in other cases, they can be harmful.

The team at the Mystic Aquarium worked tirelessly to treat this animal and stabilize its condition. They rehydrated the animal but no improvements in its behavior or attitude were apparent. Quality of life for animals in rehabilitation is paramount. Despite therapy the seal's condition continued to deteriorate and euthanasia was determined to be the most humane course of action. The decision to euthanize an animal is never taken lightly.

While we are saddened by the news we understand that surgery or multiple surgeries would have been necessary to stabilize this animal. Most likely one surgical procedure would have been required to remove the rocks from the stomach. A second surgery might have been necessary to remove the bird-shot from the face since one of the pellets was proximal to the eye. Surgery in marine mammals is difficult and poses its own risks, a seal in this condition would most likely not have survived surgery.

We would like to thank our colleagues at the Mystic Aquarium for their efforts with this seal.

- Connie


A small "PIT" stop before release

Last week the rescue team PIT tagged all of our cold-stunned sea turtles. A PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag is used in a variety of different animals. Each tag has an alpha-numeric code programmed into the small chip. This is then injected into the triceps of the turtle.

This type of tag is also used for cats and dogs. If an animal is found a veterinarian can pass a reader over the animal and it displays the number for that tag. The number is then searched in a database and the animal's owner can then be located.

Here the needle syringe that holds the PIT tag is inserted into the triceps of the turtle.

If one of our turtles is found again either at sea or more likely on a nesting beach a researcher equipped with a scanner can get the turtle's unique number. Submitting this number to the Cooperative Marine Turtle Tagging Program can determine if the turtle had once been at the New England Aquarium.

Sometimes they are also found in precarious positions. As was the case for a Kemp's ridley sea turtle named Anka that stranded in 2005 and was released in 2006. This turtle was found in a pound net by The Riverhead Foundation on Long Island in New York on October 16, 2006. After being scanned by a PIT tag reader it showed that the turtle had a tag and it was able to be tracked back to the Aquarium. The sea turtle had been released that summer.

This picture shows Anka after being brought in from the cold-stun to the Aquarium. The Aquarium helped care for the turtle and release it.

This picture was taken after it was found in a pound net in Long Island, New York after it was released.

Anka did survive it's run in with the pound net and was later released by the Riverhead Foundation.



Share and share alike

Hi all,

Last week the Rescue Department staff co-hosted the Northeast Region Stranding Network (NERS) conference. NERS members include authorized responders from Maine through Virgina. Members are made up of biologists, veterinarians, veterinary technicians and researchers. Also at this conference were local, state and federal officials and educators. Since all marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we work closely with the National Marine Fisheries Services on all marine mammal issues.

Interns from the Whale Center of New England work at the registration table at the NERS conference.

Over a four day period, NERS members shared important information through business meetings, oral lectures and poster presentations. Presentations were included in several categories, including marine mammal health, sea turtle health, case studies, large whale research and other general lectures. We also hosted a one day Special Symposium titled Marine Animal Disease in the 21st Century. The top experts in this field were invited to speak to our group. This day consisted of seven 30-minute lectures and a lengthy discussion period among all the participants and the invited speakers. The 2009 NERS conference was a huge success!

- Connie



Blanding's Turtle Laparoscopy

I have previously blogged about our adult male Blanding's turtle, Skip, and the problems that Blanding's turtles face here in Massachusetts. I have also blogged about the head-start program for Northern red-bellied turtles. Combining those two themes together, today's blog is about the head-start program for Blanding's turtles.

Head-started Blanding's turtles

Blanding's turtle nests are protected with wire cages at several locations in Massachusetts. When the babies hatch in the fall they are sent to several institutions to be raised through the winter. By the following spring, they are large enough to improve their chance of survival, and are released back to the swamps where they were collected.

It isn't possible to determine the gender of baby turtles from the outside, but medical technology is now allowing us to look inside their bodies to determine whether they have testes or ovaries. These images are from a recent procedure we did to check the gender of ten head-started Blanding's turtles. The turtles will be released in a month or so.

The turtles are put under anesthesia, and a small incision is made in front of the hind leg to allow the scope to be introduced into the body cavity. The gonad is located along the front surface of the kidney.

In this image, the testicle is the light tan, smooth, elongated structure in the center of the image. It is only a few millimeters in size, but the scope magnifies it so that we can see it better.

We found that all of the babies were male! The gender of Blanding's turtles, like many turtle species, is determined by the incubation temperature of the egg. If the eggs in a nest were all at about the same temperature, all of the babies will be the same sex. For Blanding's, cooler temperatures produce males. So it is likely that the babies that we examined came from relatively cool nests. The biologists that study these turtles will be looking into this in more detail this summer. We are planning to check some more babies soon, and we are hoping to find some females.

We thank the many individuals and institutions that are working on this project in addition to the New England Aquarium: Zoo New England, Hyla Ecological, Oxbow Associates, Mass Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

-Dr. Innis


The Journey of a thousand miles...

Starts with a single splash!

Recently, a satellite tag from Crush, a green sea turtle from our 2007-2008 cold-stun season started transmitting again. This was a turtle that stranded on November 26, 2007 at Cold Storage Beach in Truro. The turtle was then transported to University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford Maine in January of 2008 to complete rehabilitation.

On August 27, 2008, the turtle was released at Dowse's Beach in Osterville, Mass. We release turtles from the Nantucket Sound side of Cape Cod so that the turtles do not have to swim out of Cape Cod Bay. Releasing the turtles from this area also reduces the chance of rehabilitated turtles restranding from being cold-stunned.

Below you can track the satellite hits since Crush has been released. Since the last hit from the tag the turtle has been out at sea for 196 days

Map of Crush location as of March 10th, 2009. The tag on the turtle has been functioning for 196 days. (Click to enlarge)

Thank you to Jessica Lavash for the satellite tracking map of Crush.



The birdshot stops here (Update)

In addition to turtles, the Marine Animal Rescue Team works with seals. We responded to an adult harp seal this morning in Manchester, MA. We monitored the animal for several days, and decided to collect him this morning. He did not re-enter the water after the usual resting period and appeared to decline in his activity and alertness.

The Aquarium and the Whale Center of New England staff and interns collected the seal from the marsh using boards known as herding boards. Herding boards are used to herd the animal into the kennel while protecting the rescuers from possible harm. Seals can be very agile on land and will defend themselves if threatened, trust me they can deliver a nasty bite!

This harp seal was transported to the Mystic Aquarium for rehabilitation. Veterinarians at the Mystic Aquarium did a detailed physical exam including blood work and radiographs (X-Rays). They found rocks in the stomach and three birdshot pellets in the head - OUCH! This seal is being stabilized, and tucked in for the night as I write this blog. His prognosis is unknown at this time but stay tuned and we'll keep you updated.

Since it is illegal to approach, handle or harass seals in the US, we alerted the National Marine Fisheries Services regarding the birdshot in this seal. They will worry about the legal case, we will focus on the health of the animal.

- Connie