Transport day at the sea turtle clinic

Hi all,

First thanks to all of you for your comments and encouragement during this crisis. We are holding our own but the days are long and tiring. Yesterday we transported 12 animals to other facilities. Unfortunately we got 17 more in!

Wave goodbye and good luck to six of our sea turtles that departed early this morning for the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach. In the photo below, one of our volunteers leaves our facility with six turtles bound for the Virginia Aquarium. Christina, one of the sea turtle biologists at the Virginia Aquarium stranding program was vacationing in RI. She met our driver and took the six sea turtles back with her. She contacted me last night to let me know that they made the trip just fine and were settled in their new home.

The transport needed to happen early (Adam and I arrived at 5:30 AM to prepare the turtles). After our driver, left we started right in with turtle care for the day. In the first photo below Adam reads a thermometer to adjust the swim pool temp for the new turtles. In the bottom photo, our volunteers began arriving and jumped in on treatments. Here Maria cleans a turtle shell. We doubled up for efficiency—look at little number 7, how cute can one little turtle be?!

With nearly 80 turtles in house our new clinic is getting a work out and so far is holding up to the test. This is my favorite room of the facility! Below Dr. Innis and Kurt prepare medications for each animal - this takes hours!

Below is one of my cases from yesterday. This animal was fresh off the beach and upon first glance looked okay. After examining the ventral region I found a significant wound. As you can see in the photo on the left the animal's left rear flipper appeared swollen. At closer glance, I could see a soft tissue injury with significant swelling. We will take radiographs of this animal today to be sure there isn't a broken bone involved.

At 11:00 AM My colleague, Kristen Patchett, from the University of New England (UNE) arrived to take six animals up to her Marine Animal Hospital at UNE. UNE is a long term partner in marine animal rehabilitation, they always seem to swoop in during the most critical times and lend us a hand - THANKS Kristen and the MARC team!!

The top photo below shows the turtles packed up and ready to be loaded into the vehicle for the trip to UNE. The bottom photo shows the turtles in the vehicle ready to go.

I've dubbed myself supervisor of moral during this crisis situation (Okay, I always assume this role!). I like to run around a couple times a day and check on people. Most important is making sure people are enjoying themselves while saving endangered species. I like to nudge them to make them laugh and keep spirits up!

In the photo on the left, Katie responds to my nudging and shows how much she enjoys her work. In the center photo Dr. Julie Cavin is enjoying herself way too much - okay in reality she's laughing at me...maybe a little harder then was warranted but I have thick skin! The photo on the right of Adam can be summed up in one word - DENIED! He denied me a laugh no matter how hard I tried (he had to work pretty hard to keep from laughing but in the end he won...there's always tomorrow!)

In the photos below newer turtles are supervised as they swim. Several needed assistance and had to be monitored closely so lifeguards were on hand if a rescue was necessary.

Here is a photo of the clock on the wall. Adam and I arrived yesterday at 5:30 AM to prepare for the transport and finally left at about 10:45PM. That's a long day of caring for turtles!

We have another long day ahead of us but help is arriving daily. Many of our former volunteers are coming back to help out, our field volunteers are pitching in and biologist from other sea turtle institutions start arriving tomorrow. Thanks for tuning in!

- Connie


73 turtles and counting ...

Hi all,

Okay folks we are now knocking on the door of an endangered species crisis. Today 14 more endangered Kemp's ridely sea turtles came in bringing our total number of live turtles in house to 73. That's a lot of turtles and a very heavy clinical load.

Our new facility is designed to deal with a high number of turtles however the last phase of the project is not complete. In 2011 we will complete the final phase of the turtle hospital with another tank and the associated life support system. This tank will be larger then the largest one we have now [Note: You can contribute to help build that tank with this form].

These are long and exhausting days for the staff and volunteers but well worth the effort.
There are so many critical turtles that we split up into teams. We had three teams inside the clinic and one team out on the tank area. I set up my station in the tank area and treated animals "pool side" on my cart (sounds like a spa!) With the help of my volunteer, Jess, we went to work on taking care of these very special little creatures.

The photo below in the left shows my treatment cart in the background and Jess, marking a turtle in the foreground. Despite the heavy treatment load right now other tasks such as pool cleaning and feeding still need to get done. In the photo on the right Jess works on one of the tanks.

Individual care is given to each animal, no matter how busy or how many treatments are on the treatment board for the day. In the photo below on the left you can see multiple lesions on the plastron and skin of this turtle. I had to scrub each wound and remove dead tissue. Next I rinsed the turtle and applied topical ointment to each wound. It took us quite a bit of time on this turtle but each one deserves everything we've got!

They had their own challenges inside the clinic. Below on the left Adam draws fluids for a turtle. At this stage of rehab, most of the turtles are still getting fluids. In order to select the most appropriate replacement fluid for each turtle we draw a little bit of blood each day (until the turtle's values have leveled out). The vets then prescribe the appropriate fluid therapy. It's all a lot of work but it works.

This was a difficult case for Adam and Dr. Cavin. Number 69 did not have a detectable heartbeat on our doppler upon arrival. Doesn't always mean they don't have a heartbeat, it just means it's so faint and infrequent that we might not be able to pick it up on the doppler. Dr. Cavin administered emergency medications to # 69 and look at the results! In the photo on the right 69 is swimming around a shallow pool! He'll be on the critical list for a while but this is the response we want to see.

How on earth do you keep all these animals straight and how do you know which animals need blood work, radiographs or treatments? Excellent questions! We put up this treatment board in the clinic to help keep us organized. Note the temperature zones at the bottom. Remember cold stun turtles can only be raised about 5 degrees (F) per day or we can do more harm then good.

Hey - look who's back! Loyal blog followers will remember long time Rescue staff member Jennifer. Jen left us to start a family but now she's back on the payroll for one day a week helping us take care of all these turtles. Welcome back Jen!

So many people were working hard today for these turtles. When I delivered blood work to the lab I found our vet staff hard at work. Below, one of the techs processes blood samples.

In the photo below Dr. Cavin holds a turtle as one of our lab techs prepares the radiograph (X-ray) machine.

The radiograph machine is digital so once the films have been taken Dr. Cavin can log in and interpret the films in real time. Look closely at the computer screen in the photos as it shows two different views of he turtle.

Below is a photo of two supervised swim pools.

And while not a sexy photo, I threw this in because I did over 15 loads of laundry today in between my treatment schedule and look at the pile! good heavens - we generate towels all day long so it's hard to catch up...maybe the bucket will be empty by Spring?!

It's hard work and long days but it comes with it's own rewards. I'm proud to work with so many dedicated and wonderful people all coming together to help these injured and distressed sea turtles.

- Connie


Thanksgiving Turtle Rescue

Hi all and a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

I was getting dressed this morning for my holiday festivities when I received a text from Kerry who was covering our sea turtle hospital (just for the record a text on a holiday during turtle season usually spells trouble). Her text said "14 new turtles coming in" (translation- you won't be seeing your family today for thanksgiving). Luckily I have an understanding family so I changed into scrubs and headed to the sea turtle hospital.

Below is a photo of the clinic all set up and waiting for the new arrivals. Look how sparkling clean and organized.

The turtles came up in two separate vehicles. The first volunteer sea turtle driver came up with 9 turtles and then I wrangled my brother into picking up the remaining six and bringing them to us. (One way to ensure seeing family in this business is to make them volunteer!)

In the photos below Kate and Alice, our super-star turtle volunteers who gave up her holiday to help sea turtles, prepare for the incoming turtles. On the left Kate organizes the paperwork for each turtle before we begin exams. In the photo on the right Alice prepares the swim pools - look how happy she is to be saving endangered species on a holiday!

The photo below shows the clinic in full swing. Like me, our vet Dr. Cavin was headed to her holiday festivities when we called her in. Below she is multitasking her turtle work by reading blood results and preparing to ultrasound a turtle. On the left in the foreground is my brother. Not only did I enlist him to drive turtles ... I then convinced him to stay and help out - Thanks John!

We have several critical cases in today's group of animals. One animal had to be placed on a ventilator to ensure proper oxygen circulation. Before putting the animal on the ventilator, we were breathing for the animal manually. in the photo on the left, Kate is proving ventilation manually, the photo on the right is a shot of the ventilator machine once the animal was hooked up. Notice the breaths are set at 3. These animals wouldn't be breathing more then that on their own so that's is the appropriate setting.

Below Kate plays lifeguard to a few of the new turtles. We can't leave them unattended in water during this phase of rehabilitation.

Of course when this many endangered species come in at once it usually attracts the media. The place was jumping after not long!

In the photo below on the left Kerry answers questions while checking a new turtle. On the photo on the right Ulrika checks the heart rate of one of the new patients while the media films the exam. You can read the Boston Globe story here and the Reuters story here.

In the photo below on the left Dr. Cavin works on a turtle while a member of the media shoots video. In the photo on the right our media director, Tony, answers questions for a Channel 5 reporter.

While my plans for today included enjoying a nice RELAXING holiday with my family and friends, it didn't quite work out that way. I have no regrets though as saving endangered species brings it's own rewards. On this day I'm most thankful for all those in our society who also worked today to take care of people and animals. Police, fire, hospital staff, animal shelter staff, sea turtle biologists (ha), our military and so many others all gave up their holidays to keep humans and animals safe ... I guess I'm in good company.



This Week I am Thankful For...

This is a guest post from Senior Aquarium Educator Lisbeth Bornhofft. She recently traveled to our new Animal Care Center in Quincy to get a lay of the land, learning about the facility and its patients so she can teach her fellow educators back on Central Wharf. Read about Lisbeth in the Cool Jobs section of the Fall 2010 issue of blue member magazine.

As an Education liaison to the Rescue & Rehabilitation department, I had the opportunity to visit with our colleagues at the Quincy facility. My mission: keep our volunteers back at the mother ship in touch with Rescue & Rehab activities, especially now that they are separated from our Central Wharf campus.

I was greeted at the door by our illustrious staff painter and general Aquarium cheerleader, Dave Comerford. He's been working on finishing the specialized floors needed in such a wet and highly trafficked space "They let anyone in here!" he quipped. Actually, that's not true. This facility is not open to the public. I showed him my ID badge and he reluctantly let me in.

I was immediately astounded by the sheer size and high-tech feel of our new facility. You could fit several of the planet's biggest animals, blue whales, in here—well, that would never happen, but maybe you can imagine how big such a structure would have to be. (See Adam's post for more photos of the facility.)

Upon arrival in the rescue/rehab area, I found Adam Kennedy and volunteer Maury administering "turtle Gatorade," (which I would prefer to call "turtleade"), to some recent arrivals.

I was struck by the calm efficiency with which staff and volunteers carry out their duties. This has always been the case with these highly capable people, but as Connie Merigo pointed out when she found me, their job is a whole lot easier now. Not only do they have plenty of well-organized space, but the various essential areas are adjacent, instead of spread out over several buildings and floors. No longer do they have to carry turtles through public spaces and answer a barrage of questions, like, "Where are the bathrooms?" Don't get me wrong—they never minded answering questions, but now they are saving a significant amount of time that can be spent caring for our endangered guests.

The turtles are shuffled on a regular basis from their holding pools to the exam room and back again.

Out at the holding pools, I found 31 Kemps ridley sea turtles and four green sea turtles thriving in their temperature-controlled tanks. The turtles are "cold stunned" when they arrive, so staff members must raise the temperature just a few degrees each day to the secure the turtles' road to health. It was feeding time, so staff and volunteers were engaged in the patient game of temping turtles with herring and squid.

Feeding time!

Yum, herring.

Mmmm, squid.

You can almost hear the turtle chomping in this video!

But sometimes they're not that interested in eating. Here's another short clip of feeding time with the turtles. As you can see, feeding requires a lot of patience.

Connie's tour of the facility included a viewing of several well-known staff members who spend some time in Quincy. Veterinarian Charlie Innis was working wicked hard (I can say that because I'm from Massachusetts) at his computer, but I'm sure he was thinking, "I can't wait to try out our cool new wet table." He'll be able to carry out medical procedures on fish with this equipment! Katie Kodzis sometimes takes a break from her work in the Aquarium Medical Center to "run bloods" for rescued turtles in this space. According to Connie she's a blood analyst extraordinaire. (If I were from London, I might say she's a "bloody genius"!)

Dr. Innis at work.

You may not have met the newest member of Rescue/Rehab, biologist Kurt Hood. He looked like he was settling in quite well!

I couldn't help but linger by a pool with eight Kemp's ridleys who had just arrived that morning. I'm thankful this week for a lot of things, but I'm especially thankful to Connie and her staff for welcoming me during a time of heightened activity, and I'm extraordinarily thankful for these little guys who, with the help of NEAq, will get to spend more time on the Blue Planet!

Happy Thanksgiving!

- Lisbeth