2015 Turtles: 50 Turtles Head South

This post is adapted from a media release that appeared on the News Blog. To date, 287 sea turtles that have washed up on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay have been admitted to the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital since early November. Today, 50 turtles were transported south.

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle in treatment at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy

Yesterday, our first wintery storm delayed the flight of fifty endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles from the our sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA, to a turtle rehab facility in Florida.

Boxing up turtles for transport to warmer climes
(Photo via Karen Twomey via Twitter @KarenWBZRadio)
But the three- to ten-pound, black-shelled, juveniles eventually shipped out from Hanscomb Airport in Bedford, MA, today. Their five-hour flight to Panama City, Florida, will bring them to Gulf World, a marine park that has been a crucial partner of ours, finishing the rehab of a large number of cold-stunned sea turtles over the past two record-setting years.

The flight has been arranged by NOAA and will be operated by PlaneSense,
a private aviation company located in Portsmouth, N.H.  

Many thanks to PlaneSense for operating this flight and donating part of the cost of the trip. We are also incredibly grateful to a generous, anonymous benefactor from New York, who is covering the remainder of the cost of the trip.

The turtles all safely stowed in their banana boxes for transport

This autumn’s sea turtle stranding season is the second largest in the quarter century partnership between the New England Aquarium and the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Our hospital is over capacity. Transferring these rewarmed and medically stable turtles to other rehab facilities in the South and along the East Coast will make room for any more turtles that may strand.

We could not save so many turtles with the help of rescue partners
in Wellfleet and throughout the country.

In a normal weather year, the sea turtle stranding season would already be over as they rarely survive the water temperatures in the low 40’s, which is typical. But Cape Cod Bay has been exceptionally warm for most of December with water temperatures in the high 40’s.

The loggerhead rescued by volunteers at Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay
(Photo via Mass Audubon's Facebook page)

The last surviving turtles of the season are almost always large, adolescent loggerhead sea turtles weighing 25 to 75 pounds. So far this season, only one has been admitted leaving the truly strange prospect of tropical sea turtles stranding in New England well into January.


2015 Turtles: In the News

Our rescuers are working hard to keep up with turtle exams, transports, feedings and more. This is now our second largest stranding season, with well over 200 turtles brought to our Animal Care Center in Quincy. We'll share news and tidbits when we can. Stay tuned.

With the unseasonably warm weather we had been getting so far this year, CBS Evening News followed up on the unusual sea turtle rescue season. The package featured video from our sea turtle hospital and sound from our very own Connie Merigo.

Watch it here.


2015 Turtles: A very unusual patient

Our rescuers are working hard to keep up with turtle exams, transports, feedings and more. This is already our third largest stranding season! But we'll share news and tidbits when we can. Stay tuned.

A vast majority of the turtles that we treat at the Aquarium's rescue facility are juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtles. They are about the size of a dinner plate, easily held by volunteers during regular check-ups.

A volunteer drains water from a Kemp's ridley before its exam

But this year, which is already shaping up to be somewhat unusual, we got an even more unusual patient—a large turtle that looks very much like an adult Kemp's ridley sea turtle. This turtle weighs around 40 pounds and is too big for some of our recovery pools already brimming with smaller turtles. Volunteers must lift her out of her pool and into a large, topless kennel carrier for her exam, which includes blood tests and a careful examination of her flippers, shell and mouth.

The large Kemp's weighs about 40 pounds.
The Kemp's in its kennel carrier for an exam. 
Connie examines the turtle's carapace, or top shell, as volunteers look on
Julika and Connie look inside the turtle's mouth for abrasions or obstructions. 

While we're still waiting on some tests, this turtle appears to have several underlying issues including a swollen flipper and pneumonia. Right now we're just at the early stages of treating her. She needs to fight off any of her infections before we're able to look into any problems with her joints. Stay tuned for updates on her progress during her long road to recovery.


2015 Turtles: Sick turtles bring seaweed

The cold-stunned sea turtles are arriving in great numbers these days. Our rescuers are working to keep up with turtle exams, transports, feedings and more. But we'll share news and tidbits here. Stay tuned!

Most of the cold-stunned sea turtles that arrive at our facility for rehabilitation have been floating out in Cape Cod Bay for a while. Since they've been moving so slowly, seaweed and algae have had a chance to accumulate on their bodies. Here are some examples of the flora that the turtles carry to Quincy.

But once the turtles have been examined by our rescue team, their shells are gently scrubbed with kitchen sponges so we can write an ID number on their shell. This color-coded ID number, which also appears on a temporary band on their flipper, helps the rescuers identify the turtles as they float in the pools. That way they can pull the correct turtle for its exam or document how much an individual turtle eats.

Those ID numbers are already well over 100. Buckle up, sea turtle stranding season is getting busy—very busy!


2015 Turtles: Rescue season is now!

After an unprecedented rescue season last winter, the sea turtle stranding season is off to an unusual start this year. More than 100 have arrived at our turtle hospital in Quincy so far. That's enough to make it an average year (last year aside). But the season is still going and the temperature shows no sign of dropping.

A Kemp's ridley turtle recovers in a tank

Stay tuned as we start posting some pictures and updates about the interesting cases this year (including a mature Kemp's ridley that stranded—very unusual) and pictures of the routines underway. Thanks for joining us for another cold-stun sea turtle stranding season!


Cape Cod sea turtle release: An intern perspective.

One of our summer interns, Ava, is guest blogging about her experience at the last turtle release. If you are interested in becoming an intern for the New England Aquarium, please visit our Get Involved pageKeep reading for Ava's experience!

Visitors to the Aquarium on Central Wharf can dig into the turtle rescue experience at our Sea Turtle Hospital, compete with replica sea turtles that you can feed and diagnose. Buy tickets online today and you won't pay a ticketing surcharge.

Guest Blogger Ava!
I knew from the very beginning that the goal for the animals I was working with at the New England Aquarium Rescue department was to get them back into the ocean. It was something I enjoyed most about my internship, and it was definitely a crucial factor in my summer job search. I wanted to do more than work with animals, and I knew that the New England Aquarium Rescue would provide me with the unique experience I was looking for. The idea that these animals would someday return to the open ocean was something that was important to me in my every day work. And on the last day of my internship, I was lucky enough to see it for myself. On August 5, 2015, the staff, interns, volunteers and I released three Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and one loggerhead on West Dennis Beach on Cape Cod. One minute they were here, and then they were gone. (See lots more pictures from release events here!)

The release preparation was an intense process that entailed the hard work and dedication of staff, volunteers and interns. The staff spent hours upon hours planning the release. From ordering and testing tagging materials, sanding down the turtles’ shells, planning the placement and orientation of the tags, coordinating volunteer schedules and everything in between, it was impossible not to admire their dedication and understood responsibility to these animals.

The loggerhead was tagged the day before the release, a process that took about three hours. I followed the lead of seasoned volunteers who knew exactly what to do in almost every situation. Tagging stations were set up throughout the clinic where volunteers and interns were in rotation—holding and restraining turtles as they received their satellite tags.

Once all the turtles were tagged and the epoxy had set, they were put back in their temporary habitat in order to allow them to calm down before the transport. I and other volunteers took shifts observing their behavior, intervening when they attempted to bite each other’s tags. 

When it came time to get the turtles into the truck for transport, the loggerhead required the strength of three people including myself to get him into his transport bed. The other three turtles were put in the standard turtle boxes we used during exams and procedures, lined with towels and cushion. Once all four turtles were in the back of the suburban, we were on our way. I sat in the back with the turtles, climbing back every time White crowned sparrow tried to climb his way out of his box to get him back inside.

Senior Biologist Linda Lory in front of the new Rescue team vehicle.

I watched as passerby’s looked confusedly at the giant turtle decal on the side of the truck. On our way to West Dennis Beach on the last day of my internship, a feeling of pride and appreciation came over me. I felt so lucky to have been able to spend my summer working with such amazing people and animals alike.

When we arrived at the beach, people crowded along the barrier where we were to release the turtles. A volunteer named Maggie and I carried out two of the Ridleys in their boxes and some of our colleagues from Wellfleet as well as one of our veterinarians carried the smaller turtles around for the public to get a better look.

After the “Parade of Turtles” as we so fondly refer to it, the three Ridleys were set on the sand and were cheered on as they scurried back into the ocean (all except one who was still recovering from his nap on the way to the beach, he needed a little more cheering than the rest). 

The picture above shows three of partners from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. These are the hard working dedicated folks that walk the beaches to find the turtles when they strand.

After the ridleys, the loggerhead was set on the sand and made his way to the shoreline. Just like that, they were gone. 

Collaboration at it's finest. Above and below Aquarium, Wellfleet Audubon, and NOAA staff release the last cold-stun turtle of 2014, Snowy Owl.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to conclude my internship with the New England Aquarium. I was lucky enough to get to see the end result of all the work I did this summer. Luckily though, the staff at the Rescue Center couldn’t get rid of me that easily. I am still volunteering at the New England Aquarium Rescue and we are already getting ready to meet the turtles of the 2015 season.

To see where Common Eider (480), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (513), White Crowned Sparrow (699), and Snowy Owl (734) are now either click on their "name" or click here to visit the seaturtle.org website.

Thanks to Ava and all of the interns over the past months for helping with the extraordinary amount of sea turtles.

— Adam


Preparation for 2015 turtle season is going strong!

As staff are busy preparing and planning for another turtle stranding season, guest blogger Sarah will let you in on some of the building and office work that are underway.

We may no longer have any turtles from the 2014 stranding season still in house, but this is no time of year to relax. As much as none of us want to admit it, it is beginning to cool off outside (maybe not during the day, but at least overnight temperatures are decreasing!). The end of the summer months means that the next turtle stranding season is going to be upon us before we know it.

One of the last 2014 Kemp's ridley sea turtles return to the water at Assateague Island, Maryland. You can follow four of the turtles from 2014 here. 

We have been very busy here already preparing for the upcoming stranding season. Since the 2014 stranding season smashed our previous records, staff have decided to prepare for another monster year. Here are some of the projects we have been busy completing.

Files for 1500 turtles are being made!
Lindsay, Lena, and Liz are all busy getting folders and turtle bands ready for our arrivals.

This is what 500 records look like. 1/3 of the way there.
 We need to make sure our towels are well stocked.

Doing some repairs to tanks and life support.
Installing new tanks and redoing the plumbing.

Getting some support brackets ready for a chiller.
Repainting and reorganizing our clinic.
Add caption
Creating an inventory of our loggerhead kennels.
Sightings of loggerheads are up this summer. Early predictions are stating that we might have another big loggerhead year. As contrasted to last season where we only had 13 of that species come to the animal care center.
Could it be another year like this:

Stay tuned...

Thanks, Sarah!


2014 Turtles: The Glorious Finale

We made it to Georgia with our precious cargo, and as many as 400 or 500 people were lining the beach to watch these endangered sea turtles return to the ocean. Not surprisingly, there was great excitement and energy on the beach—a sunny culmination to all those months of rehabilitation during the cold and snowy winter in New England.

Parading the turtles so visitors can get a close-up look at these amazing animals

Dr. Norton and Michelle Kaylor of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center lead a parade of turtle carriers to the beach. The turtle handlers let visitors get a good look at the turtles, mostly Kemp's ridley and one green sea turtle.

Poised and ready

When it was time for the actual release, Dr. Norton counted down from ten for the turtle handlers to walk the turtles into the water. His counting was quickly overtaken by the 500 or so voices yelling out the count.  What a wonderful send-off for our patients!

A little thank you to the generous pilots that helped so many of our turtle patients travel to special rehabilitation
turtle hospitals during the thick of stranding season last fall. We could not have saved so many turtles without
the help of our partners!

In total 15 Kemp's ridley turtles from the New England Aquarium and one green turtle from the Georgia sea turtle center were released during this joint event. Other turtles were released later.

And they're off!

Good luck, turtles!

This video from the GA Sea Turtle Center's Facebook page has a cool aerial perspective of the event. Local and regional media was also on hand to film the release.

We managed to gather Georgia Sea Turtle Center staff and volunteers, New England Aquarium staff and vols and some Jekyll Island Authority staff who helped us with this event for one last picture. It's always inspiring to see so many people passionate about saving sea turtles.