A new rehab area for rescued sea turtles

Greetings from the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP)! Usually around this time of year we would be sharing stories of rescued animals that are in our care here at the National Aquarium; however, with the mild winter that we had here in the Mid-Atlantic region, staff have not received many calls about animals in need of our help. That does not mean that the staff has been on an extended vacation, though…

In preparation for the “turtle season,” the Aquarium’s MARP staff and Animal Care Center (ACC) staff have been working alongside contractors to get the new sea turtle rehabilitation area up and running. That’s right — the NEW sea turtle rehab area is now complete and ready for its first patient, and MARP is ready to answer those calls for help!

The Animal Care Center is an off-site facility where animals clearing quarantine are held before entering an exhibit, and where wild animals in need of rehabilitation stay. Making sure that the quarantine protocols were followed during this transition has been the biggest step, as there are shared spaces that all staff use, including the kitchen areas. Several precautions were adjusted or added so that all animals remain safe and healthy during their stay at the ACC.

With the help of Andrew Pulver, Darius Hunter, and the ACC staff, the transition has been a huge success, with all equipment in place and the new pool systems up and running smoothly! Currently, the MARP team is keeping a close eye on the water temperatures, to make sure that the new pools are going to be in the proper temperature range for the turtles that we normally take in this time of year. The temperature range that we typically keep for rehabilitation purposes is between 77° and 86°F, and we also keep at least one pool at a lower temperature to mimic the current ocean temperatures. These fluctuations are monitored continually throughout the off-season, even when we don’t have turtles in rehab.

So while there are still a few minor details to work out as far as equipment is concerned, staff members are eager to find and develop new enrichment ideas for the new pools’ large front windows.

Until then, just remember that if you are out on the water this spring and summer, keep your eye out for marine wildlife in our area. It is around this time that we see different animals migrating through our local waters, as the Chesapeake Bay acts as a thoroughfare for several ocean species. Animals that the MARP team usually sees include sea turtles and seals. While sea turtles will generally stay in the water, they do surface for breaths of air, so be careful if out on a boat. Boat strikes are an unfortunately common cause of marine animal injury.

As for seals, this time of year brings them warm sunshine as they pass along the Eastern Shore, so basking areas such as local boat ramps/docks, small islands off the coast, and even public beaches make good haul-out locations for these animals. The MARP team just asks that you keep your distance, as they can be aggressive if approached, and please call the Aquarium’s stranding hotline at 410-373-0083 to let us know if you see one in our area! Healthy or not, we would love to know when these animals are starting to venture along the Maryland coastline.

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