Weekly Oil Spill Update: Capture and Release

I just want to share with you a couple of interesting news pieces that I have come across this week.

The video below, released by NOAA and posted on the USCG website, shows the capture and assessment of sea turtles in the gulf.

This article describes Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings being released into the gulf from Padre Island National Seashore. Since Texas remains oil-free, this procedure will continue as in previous years.

Kemp's ridley hatchlings being released. (Photo credit: AP via Yahoo News)



Dolphin Data: Those satellite tags keep ticking!

Hi all,

I'm back from some travel (that didn't involve rescuing sea turtles in 115+ degree heat - imagine that!) Upon my return, the Aquarium's mapping specialists notified me that we were still receiving strong signals from our released dolphins.

To refresh your memory, back in March of this year we responded to a mass stranding of white-sided dolphins. Upon arrival one animal was dead however four others were found alive. (Click here for much more information about this stranding event.)

In the photo below you can see the three live dolphins in the foreground and the deceased dolphin on it's side in the background. The other live dolphin was a smaller animal found in the mud about 50 yards from this group.

In the photo below a team of us prepared to perform health exams on the dolphins.

Kerry performed a health exam on the smaller dolphin found separated from the group. In the photo below Kerry collects a heart rate using a stethoscope.

Prior to release, Kate and I tagged two of the dolphins with TDR (time depth recorders) satellite tags from Wildlife Computers. The photo below shows the tag attached to the fin of the dolphin prior to release.

Okay enough with the stranding event history...the animals were released on March 11, 2010 from Provincetown, MA. Since that time the tags have been sending data on the location, dive depth, time at depth and other important behavioral information. Years ago we had no means of determining survival of these mass stranded dolphins that were transported and beach released. This tagging project has given us great insight into their survival, behavior and habitat use.

As you will see from their tracks in the map below, both animals have traveled extensively and appear to have re-entered their habitat successfully after a traumatic stranding, relocation and release. It should not be simplified though that this will work for every stranded cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise). Careful health assessments are performed on each animal to determine if they are fit for transport and release.

In the map below, the travels of the two dolphins are shown in different colors for ease of viewing. The small inset map in the top right corner highlights the extensive distance traveled by one of the dolphins.

This research has been vital to our stranding response and has helped us refine our health assessment protocols, transport methods and release criteria for mass stranded dolphins. The data collected from this research project has been compiled and was recently submitted for peer-review publication. We patiently await word of its acceptance...I'll keep you posted.

- Connie


Seal Pup Season

Harbor seal pup season has arrived so I thought I would give you an update on what the rescue team has been doing in the field and a reminder of what to do when you see a seal on the beach.

This past week has been fairly busy in the field now that pups are here. We have transferred two pups to the University of New England (UNE) Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center this last week. The first one was a pup in Winthrop. I actually was playing field volunteer that day and went down with one of our interns to assess the animal in the morning. The seal appeared to be resting on the beach. A few wounds were noticeable and the seal was quite thin, but overall behavior was decent.

The harbor seal pup during our morning observation.

We went back to check on the seal in the afternoon and there was a noticeable decline in behavior. The seal's posture was poor (laying flat) and I noticed the right rear flipper was swollen, among other things. I decided to collect him and he was transferred to UNE.

You can notice the difference in posture from the morning pictures and these afternoon pictures.

The second seal was down in Duxbury this week and it had multiple wounds. It had been going in and out of the water and moving to different locations on the beach. The wounds were a bit concerning for us so the next day when he was spotted, the Duxbury Animal Control Officer and one of our field volunteers were able to kennel him for us. I then met them and did an exam on the seal. Most of the wounds were infected, his breathing was poor, and he was very lethargic. He was also transferred to UNE for care.

In the photos above you can see some of the wounds and the discharge from the nostrils of the seal pup in Duxbury.

Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to touch, harrass, or alter their normal behavior in any way. For information on what to do when you see a seal on the beach, check out Adam's post from last year. And remember to call our stranding hotline 617-973-5247!


Weekly Oil Spill Update: The Road to Release

While Adam and Connie are away, I thought I'd give you an update on the journey of rescued sea turtles from the Gulf.

SeaWorld Orlando just took more sea turtles from Gulf World, in Panama City, FL. 6 Kemp's ridley and 13 green sea turtles were de-oiled at Gulf World and then transferred to SeaWorld, where they will have more space to care for these animals. Here is a video that shows their path to recovery at SeaWorld.

The pictures below show the sea turtle recovery at SeaWorld, which is acting as a secondary facility for oiled turtles before release.

(Photo credit: SeaWorld Rescue)

As of last week, 10 or so nests (1 of which was a Kemp's) have been relocated from the Florida Panhandle to the Kennedy Space Center (See our previous posts about nest relocation here). The first sea turtle hatchlings have been released on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and here is a video. The photo below shows the first Kemp's ridleys being released.

(Photo credit: AP via Yahoo News)

This New York Times video is a great news piece that I recommend you view. A word of warning about the video: Some of the necropsy, or animal autopsy, scenes may be disturbing to some viewers.



Turtle Release!

This week we released 10 of our Kemp's ridley sea turtles at Dowses Beach in Osterville. These turtles were released into Nantucket Sound after eight months of rehabilitation. Several of our volunteers came down with the Rescue staff early Wednesday morning to see our patients return to the wild.

Rescue interns and staff arrived at the Aquarium at 6 a.m. to box up the turtles. Here they are lined up in front of the Sea Turtle Recovery Room.

We arrived at the beach and lined up the turtles. Adam gave our volunteers the signal, and the turtles were placed on the beach to make their way to the water.

Some turtles were faster than others. Take a look at #82 out in front. He didn't hesitate at all and was the first to enter the water!

#70, in the photo above, was a turtle with pneumonia and went through intensive care to treat his infection. He was nebulized with #57 back in January. Obviously he recovered well. Look at him go!

#34 got slightly off course at one point and started heading toward me! He must have recognized me as the person who last took his blood, because he quickly got back on track. Notice him taking another glance to make sure I wasn't following?

#34 then quickly joined the other turtles and made his way into the water.

#98 was the slowest turtle and the last to enter the water. I think he enjoyed the extra attention.

It was an exciting day for everyone. We were even able to see the turtles surface for breaths out in the sound.

Adam talked to the media afterwards. You can find video of the release on NECN and Boston.com.

You may be wondering why we are releasing these sea turtles when there are Kemp's ridleys being affected by the oil spill down in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on satellite tracking data from past ridleys we have released, these turtles will travel down the East Coast and stay around the Carolinas and Georgia. We are confident that they will not enter the Gulf at this point in their lives and that these individuals should not be affected by the spill.

One of our past interns, Krystan Wilkinson, is currently a GIS student. She made this map using data from one of our past ridley patients. Take a look and you can see the typical path of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles after we release them.

We still have eight sea turtles in our Sea Turtle Recovery Room. Most of them will be ready for release in another month or so. We will keep you updated! Thank you to everyone for supporting the turtles and to all our volunteers for your hard work in caring for our patients.



Weekly Oil Spill Update-North East Responders

So the Northeast Region again has several experts down in the Gulf looking for and taking care of oiled sea animals.

The Riverhead foundation for Marine Research and Preservation has two members of of its staff down on the waters of the Gulf looking for oiled animals. They will be rotating staff members through December or until they are no longer needed in the Gulf. Currently they are working on getting a blog up but have little to no Internet access. Once they do we will let you know. Oh, and a helpful hint given to them for responders is to not store cans or jarred food in the vehicles. They tend to explode due to the heat. I guess Connie wasn't exaggerating (she reports on the heat in this post).

Below is some of what the group will be heading out to do! This is a photo of Dr. Brian Stacy collecting an oiled Kemp's ridley.

Photo credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center sent one of their staff down to the Aquarium of the Americas last week as well. There she has been working with some of the turtles Connie was working with as well as a bottlenose dolphin. You can follow some of her work on the facebook page. She also got to work with Jeff Corwin as well (you can follow his updates on twitter). For those of you who do not know of Jeff check out this post about his visit to the New England Aquarium.

Christina Trapani from the Virginia Aquarium working with one of the AoA turtles. (Photo Credit: Audobon Institute)

I also stumbled across this FAQ about the northern gulf sea turtle egg relocation on the US Fish and wildlife service website.

Photo Credit: Dave Martin AP

Below is a map from the NOAA Environmental Response Management Application with markers indicating where all the turtles and marine mammals have been sighted so far in the gulf.


To all the responders that are either there or are planning on heading down: Stay cool and good luck!

-Kerry and Adam


Weekly Oil Spill Update: Burn Zones & Turtle Nests

As Connie is away for a bit Kerry and Adam have been charged with keeping the weekly updates going. So here we go.

Just how big is this oil spill? We received a great visual from one of our colleagues the other day. Click on this link, input your location, and see what happens.

Connie spoke about the turtle nests and fears of turtles in the burn zones. We have found some interesting articles detailing both topics. The concerns for sea turtles being affected during the controlled burns have become very public. BP is now placing observers, highly trained sea turtle rescuers, on the oil burn boats. The hope is that the observers will be able to sight and rescue sea turtles in the burn area before any burning or skimming occurs.

The below picture showing the controlled burns in the Gulf was taken by Chief Petty Officer John Kepsimelis, U.S. Coast Guard. See the photo in this USA TODAY slide show.

Connie mentioned the plans to relocate 70,000 sea turtle eggs form the coasts of Alabama and Florida's panhandle in the blog here. Relocating nests, which will mostly be loggerhead sea turtle nests is an extremely delicate process. Experts will excavate a nest by slowly and carefully digging, mostly by hand. In an effort to keep the environment of the egg as similar as possible to the natural nest, specially designed Styrofoam containers will be used to place the eggs in. Sand and the right amount of moisture will be placed around the eggs, and the temperature will be carefully monitored and controlled.

The plan is to then transport the eggs to a warehouse at Kennedy's Space Center in Florida. The eggs will be incubated there until the turtles hatch, and then the hatchlings will be released on the east coast of Florida. The risks of this process is high, but the risk of leaving the hatchlings to enter the Gulf and potentially become covered in and ingest oil is likely higher.

There is also debate that a possibly safer method would be to leave the nests as is and screen them to allow the eggs to hatch naturally. Then the hatchlings would be contained, collected and then transported to a safe release location. Hatchlings are not quite as delicate as the eggs, and this could also help reduce the risk of affecting sex ratios. It is hard to say what the best choice would be in this impossible situation.

Below are some pictures we found from the Coast Guard. It shows biologists from the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge in Alabama relocating a nest. This nest was relocated because it was too close to the tide line. It is protocol to move the nest higher up on the beach. The new nest has to mimic the original nest as closely as possible. You can see how delicate the process is, and keep in mind this is only a short move compared to the relocation procedure that will begin in the next few weeks.

We will do our best to keep you informed while Connie is away!

~Adam and Kerry


Weekly Oil Spill Update - Relocating turtles and nests

Hi all,

Sorry for missing my self inflicted oil spill blog deadline - the past few days were crazy for me and I never got to it. Speaking of which lets get to the matter at hand, the weekly oil spill update.

This week 11 sea turtles were transported out of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, (IMMS) located in Mississippi, to free up space for oiled sea turtles. Nine of the turtles went to SeaWorld and two went to Disney. None of these animals were oiled however, each stranded with injuries related to interactions with humans. I believe several were hooked accidentally by local fishermen. IMMS will now have more space available to accept oiled sea turtles if it becomes necessary.

In the photo below, Jane Davis, curator for Disney's animal programs, checks over a Kemp's ridley sea turtle fresh off the transport plane. Disney is a long time partner of ours in the effort to save endangered sea turtles; two of their veterinarians are NEAq alum!

Photo credit: AP/John Raoux

In the photos below SeaWorld veterinarian, Dr. Scott Gearhart, examines a Kemp's ridley sea turtle upon arrival to their facility.

Photo credits: AP/John Raoux

In the photo below on the left a SeaWorld staff member, Lateesha Hektner, lowers a sea turtle into its new rehabilitation pool. I borrowed the photo on the right from the SeaWorld blog to show their excellent triage facility. Sea World has a talented staff in veterinary medicine and in their ability to design and quickly set up emergency facilities for events such as this oil spill. This triage center below is excellent in that the flow through water systems will provide excellent water quality for these animals.

Photo credit (left): AP/John Raoux
Photo credit (right): SeaWorld Rescue

The other significant and current news regarding sea turtles is the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA Fisheries Service to relocate nests. They plan to dig up upwards of 70,000 sea turtle eggs along the nesting beaches in Alabama and Florida in hopes of salvaging this nesting season. In short, the fear is that the hatchlings will enter the Gulf and either consume contaminated food and die or perish in the oil itself. I'll summarize the situation for you, however you should really read about it yourself (see link below).

I have read most every online story about this issue and have attached a link below for the best article. This article is the most significant since it quotes both Barbara Schroeder, biologist in charge of sea turtles for NOAA (read more about her here) and Sandy MacPherson, biologist in charge of sea turtles for the Fish and Wildlife Service. These two women have made it their life's work to study, promote and protect sea turtles. Their combined impact on sea turtles is immeasurable. It brings me great comfort to know that they are leading the charge to save as many sea turtle as possible throughout this oil spill disaster.

Barbara Schroeder and Sandy MacPherson both know and acknowledge that the nest relocation plan will have its risks and that they expect some number of mortality. The relocation plan, directed by Sandy, outlines strict handling protocols and transport protocols. Relocating nests is not a new science and they will use every effort to reduce the number of deaths. Through the natural process of nesting, hatchlings emerging from the nest already experience a high mortality rate. Eggs are dug up and consumed by predators, nests flood and birds and other animals consume many of the hatchlings as they crawl down the beach. I can only speculate that the mortality in a controlled environment eliminating the factors above might be equal or less than the natural mortality rate... only time will tell. Either way they have to do something to salvage this nesting season. The devastation on the population if we loose this entire nesting season could prove disastrous for Kemp's ridleys and loggerheads in particular.

Click here for access to the article I mentioned above.

- Connie

As always, use this link if you're looking for ways you can help during the disaster in the Gulf.


A Blast From the Past

We have very exciting news about Goose, the green sea turtle that was released last August. His satellite tag is transmitting again!

Over the past month we have been receiving data from the tag. Goose appears to still be in the Gulf Stream in water that is a comfortable temperature for him (close to 70 degrees).

We will be releasing our current green sea turtle patients in another couple months. It will be interesting to see if they head out to the Gulf Stream to hang out with Goose.

You can follow Goose on seaturtle.org here.