Who's Who in a Wintry Wonderland

We talk a lot about "ice seals" coming to the area this time of year, but who are these so called ice seals? Hopefully I can answer that question for you today. There are two species of seals that we consider part time residents to the New England area, and they are harp seals and hooded seals. We refer to them as ice seals because they migrate down from the pack ice of Canada during the winter months and you will usually see them resting on ice or snow. Harbor seals and gray seals are considered permanent residents, because you can find them in New England year round. So how do you identify the different species? Let me give you some tips...

The above picture is an adult harp seal (in Kingston last week). Adam talked a lot about this species in his post here. As he mentioned, they are named for the so called harp shape on their back. The adults are pretty distinct with this harp or wishbone pattern and black face. A staff member at NEAQ used to say they dipped their face in chocolate, so that's how I like to think of it now. Also notice the dog like shape to the snout, like a labrador retriever's head. Noting the shape of the head will be a handy tool as we identify the other species.

The above photo is a juvenile harp seal that was in Weymouth a few days ago. Notice the very different coat pattern the juveniles have compared to the adults. They have a tan coat, which is usually darker on the back, and spots of black. I like to think of them as having blobs of ink dropped on their coat, instead of the mottled appearance of harbor seals or the blotchy spots of gray seals.

It's not unusual to see harp seals eating ice or snow, like this juvenile harp was doing. Notice that nice mouthful he has? We're not completely sure why they do this, but the possibilities include they are hydrating themselves or it is a stress response.

And now for the other ice seal in the area...hooded seals! The below photos are of a subadult male hooded seal in Salisbury last week. We don't see these seals at this age very often down this way so it was an exciting sight.

The above photos show the "hood" or enlarged nose of the males. This is how the species gets its name. This "hood" can be inflated to make the head appear larger, and the nasal membrane can be inflated to form a red, balloon-like appearance during times of aggression or mating. Their coat is silver with black splotches. The adult females usually have less splotches and do not have the "hood."

We also see yearling hooded seals occasionally as well, like the one in the above photo (from 2009). We refer to them as blue-backs, because of the bluish silver color on their back and face. These seals also have dog like shaped faces, but I refer to it as pug like since it has a much shorter and flatter snout. They also have very large eyes spread far apart on their face.

So ice seals are eveywhere this time of year, but our permanent residents are still here...

The above photo is a gray seal pup from Nantucket a few weeks ago. Pupping season for gray seals is coming to an end at this time of year. They are born with a lanugo, or white fur, which they shed after two to four weeks. The seal above still has the lanugo on his face and flippers. Also notice the longer and larger head, which can be described as a more horse-like shape.

And of course the harbor seals are still hanging around. The above photo was taken by Terry Rogers, a NEAQ field volunteer, a couple weeks ago in Salisbury. They have a great haul out area up there!

I hope this brief seal guide is helpful when you are out on the beaches. Don't forget to call our stranding hotline, 617-973-5247, if you see a seal on the beach!



I See Harps... They're Everywhere!


It's that time of year again. As the temperature drops our Arctic friends once again return to Massachusetts beaches. You can see in the photo above a seal in Rockport, MA that was monitored by the Whale Center of New England (WCNE).

Photo Credit: Patty Adell

Why are these seals called harp seals? At some point in time, people thought the black pattern on their back resembled the musical instrument (I don't see it). One of our field volunteers, Patty, took the above photo.

As we have mentioned in previous posts these animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is against federal law to get too close (closer than 150 feet), harass or change the behavior of the seals in any way.

Photo: (L) Laura Fiore, (R) WCNE

Above left the seal is not waving hello. This is actually a sign of stress and that you are probably too close. NEAq staff and trained field volunteers will do what is called a "close approach" to these animal to look for signs of injury or assess activity/behavior of the animal. It is also illegal to allow your pet to approach these animals, too (above right). Seals are wild animals that can carry disease that may be transmissable to your pet and you. They also have sharp teeth and claws that they will use if threatened.

One defensive mechanism harp seals often utilize is to "play dead". The seal in the photo above on the right is a juvenile seal, which is using this defensive technique as the dog approaches. Keeping pets on a leash this time of year on the beach is always a good practice to avoid these interactions.

Photo:Linda Karakoff

Above is a more typical view of these "ice seals." You will find them resting and enjoying the ice and snow in the arctic. The above photo was taken in Hull by the reporting party. These seals along with some other arctic seals are born on pack ice, which is why they are sometimes referred to as ice seals. They do not get stuck to the ice, and all seals are semi-aquatic which means they also spend time out of the water on land, ice or snow. It is not uncommon to have a seal spend several tide cycles out of the water in the same spot.

photo: WCNE

This seal in the photo above was resting in a marsh in Essex, Mass. Another adult harp seal!

photo:David Nash

We don't see many adult harps on Martha's Vineyard but the above photo is one of several that we have monitored in the past weeks on the island.

Photo:Ken Walker

Above was a seal that was in Marblehead today.

If you see a seal, please call our hotline at 617-973-5247 and leave a message. We will return your phone call as soon as possible. (There are many groups that respond to seals. The Aquarium responds in New Hampshire and Massachusetts from the NH boarder down to Sagamore, Mass. We also cover the Islands. IFAW covers the mainland Cape Cod, {maybe we'll work on a map for you with all the corresponding phone numbers you'll need!})

Some tips on leaving messages:
  • Stay calm!
  • Clearly state where the seal is. Give town name and what beach the seal is on. Also if there is a close address give that too.
  • We will need your phone number to call you back. Slowly state your number.
  • Give us some comments on the seal. Is it lying on it's side or vocalizing...

Most importantly enjoy the moment from a safe distance!

All of the seals mentioned above have done what this seal (below) was doing: returning to the ocean.

Another seal heads back in to the water. Possibly returning to the Arctic, or maybe it will stop off in Maine and visit our stranding partners to the north before heading home to Canada!



Webcam fun, a behind the scenes look

"Hey - that camera better not add 15 pounds to my figure!" 
(I'm sure that is exactly what this turtle was thinking...)

Hi all,

Thanks to those of you who tuned in yesterday for our first sea turtle web cast ! We were joined by more than 160 viewers from 10 countries including; the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Russia, Australia, Spain, Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands. Wow - looks like people all over the world are interested in endangered sea turtles.

This was great fun for all of us involved, I thought I would give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to do a web cast. First testing the equipment is one essential step, the other is making sure the person testing knows how to work it, for that we brought in the expert!

In the photos below, Jeff Ives, the Aquarium's editorial manager, tests out the webcam camera. The camera is tiny, you can see it in his left hand in both photos. If you look closely at the screen on Jeff's computer you can see the image broadcast over the Internet to the website.

In the photo below on the left you can see a close up the tiny camera. The photo on the right is a little deceiving in terms of the size of the camera. Jeff's laptop is one of those mini lightweight laptops.

Jeff arrived early to set up he computer equipment, camera, and microphone. I had to be careful not to become entangled in the microphone cord as we moved around during the live broadcast.

Jeff also taught one of our long term volunteers, Alexandra, to use the High Definition video camera. Alexandra filmed our broadcast, which is up now for those that missed it. 

We had a few problems with the sound but all in all it went very well. We will be doing more of these in the future on various topics so stayed tuned.

- Connie


Live webcast video - green sea turtles and Kemp's ridley sea turtles

Ever wonder how to tell the difference between a Kemp's ridley sea turtle and a green sea turtle? Ever wonder how big these animals grow, where they live or what they forage on? Today's live webcast gave sea turtle fans a way to ask these questions in real time. Here's the full video.

If your school or organization blocks Youtube, stay tuned. The video will be available on the Aquarium's Schooltube channel shortly.

- Connie


Quasar looking good!

One of the turtles early on that we had a lot of concerns about was #069 (Quasar). You can read about the turtle's intake here.

Above you can see a turtle on the Maquet ventilator. To the right is the ventilator in the background. The tube is going into our ICU to breath for a turtle that is at 55F. This helps maintain the temperature of the turtle so it does not warm up too fast.

This turtle not only received the emergency meds Connie talked about but it was also was put on a ventilator because it was not breathing on its own.

The screen of the Maquet ventilator. Typically this machine would be delivering 12-20 breaths per minute for humans, our turtles need only 1-3.

I want to give a special thanks to Sean Shortall of Maquet Inc. and the Maquet Getinge Group they have lent us this ventilator for the past few years during the height of turtle season. This has been an extremely helpful tool. The company was introduced to us by Michelle Ceresia consulting pharmacist from the Mass College of Pharmacy in Boston. We used to have to have a staff member give breaths with an ambu bag sometimes for hours. With the ventilator that staff member can now be working on other critical turtles. Not only does it help save the life of the turtle on the ventilator but, who knows how many extra turtles lives have been saved due to the extra pair of hands.

After the turtle had been on the ventilator for a good while it started showing signs of agitation. So we removed the breathing tube and brought the turtle over to a small pool to see how it would swim.

During the initial swim the turtle looked a little vacant in the eyes and seemed to be on auto pilot. Over the next couple of days the turtle continued to swim like this. This concerned me but I was hopeful. You can see a photo of the initial swim below.

Although the turtle had a good swimming posture. It didn't react when you would try and pick it up out of the water or look at your hand when it was in the water next to its head.

Above, some intake photos to the left and photos from today on the right.

You can see above that Quasar is doing great! In the picture on the left the turtle is coming over to see if I have food. On the right Quasar dashes away after realizing no food... treatment time!

This turtle has become one of my favorites. Along with Tres-4 (#61)... I know I shouldn't have favorites!

Above is Tres-4 watching me from the turtles temporary home. All I have to do is turn around from my computer and there (s)he is!



Farewell to 4 More Turtles

This week we transported 4 Kemp's ridley sea turtles to Wood's Hole Science Aquarium (WHSA). It was time to make more space for our growing turtles.

The photo above on the left shows #64, 'Ursa', during his intake exam. He had an eye injury and was on triple antibiotic ointment to treat it. The photo on the right is 'Ursa' during his exit exam. The eye looks perfectly fine now.

In the above left photo is #107, 'Venus', during his intake exam in early December. Notice the algae covering his head. All that algae, which was also on his carapace, had been cleaned off and he is ready for his exit photo shoot on the right.

#63, 'Carina', also made the journey to WHSA this week. The above photos are from his exit exam. We do a full exam, including measurements and photos, before they get transported.

Rachel, an aquarist from WHSA, and I posed for a photo with #91, 'Adrastea', who also went down to Wood's Hole. The photo on the right shows the turtles boxed up and ready for the drive. We broke out the banana boxes again for the transport...I haven't seen those in a while.

We all brought the turtles out to the car and said our farewells. These turtles will finish the rehabilitation process down in Wood's Hole. You can follow their progress on WHSA's facebook page. Thank you Rachel and WHSA for taking care of these endangered species!


What happens if no one can make it through the snow to the turtle hospital?

I hear this question with every storm...what happens to the turtles if no one can make it to the sea turtle hospital?

Sea turtle hospital - so quiet today you could hear a mouse...if a mouse could survive all the snow we've had this year.

Excellent question! Fact is, we are prepared for every kind of weather. During larger scale storms, especially if a state of emergency is declared, we station at least one staff at a nearby hotel so at least one person is guaranteed to be here to administer medications and perform treatments. Last night was my turn to ride out the storm in a hotel.

I rode out the storm last night in the nice cozy room below. I left the drapes open so I could see the snow falling around the street light outside!

As a member of several emergency response teams I'm trained to be prepared for bad weather. In the photo below you can see the emergency provisions I brought with me to the hotel. My iPad (so I could check weather in the event of power failure), a bottle of water, a snack, a flashlight and a good book. I could live for days without any of these except the good book!

In the photos below you can see what the area looked like when I pulled in to our parking lot this morning. The mound of snow on the left is almost up to the telephone wires. In the photo on the right the snow mounds are almost as tall as the trains on the track.

Guess who gets to shovel these out...enough said on this photo.

This wouldn't be a rescue team blog without photos of animals now would it. This is one of the turtles I treated today. In the photo on the left you can see exposed bone on the top shell (carapace). I cleaned the exposed area and applied a topical treatment, which just happens to be the same color as the 10 feet of snow outside.

Adam also made it in today, which is great because we still have a lot of animals here that need TLC. Hopefully we will be heading home before the rain turns to ice. Travel safe out there, friends.