Posts Tagged 'animal rescue'



Animal Rescue Update: Harp Seal on Maryland Coast

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team has been busy lately – besides caring for the 19 sea turtles we currently have in rehabilitation, we have been actively responding to seal sightings all along the Maryland coast. So far this season, we have seen mostly harbor seals visiting the area, but on Saturday, February 8, we had our first confirmed juvenile harp seal sighting of the season at the inlet of Ocean City, MD.

harp seal in ocean city

National Aquarium’s trained first-responders, along with seal steward volunteers from Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), monitored the condition of the animal, established a ‘safe viewing zone’ for the public and answered questions. Within 48 hours, volunteers with the Aquarium and MCBP interacted with nearly 600 people that stopped by to see and take pictures of the seal from the established safe zone. This harp seal was active, displaying normal seal behaviors and was in good body condition. A volunteer who was monitoring the animal witnessed the seal leaving the beach the afternoon of Monday, February 10.

Early on the morning of February 12th, our Animal Rescue team received a report from a private citizen about a seal sighting at Assateague Island National Seashore.

map of maryland shore

An Aquarium staff member responded to assess the health and condition of the animal, and it was quickly clear that this juvenile harp seal was not feeling well and in need of medical attention. Within two hours of the initial report of the sighting, Aquarium staff (with the help of the National Park Service) successfully determined the condition of the animal, secured a rehabilitation enclosure at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, New Jersey, and began the transport process. Based on the condition of the animal, both teams surmised that this was a different seal than the individual that was sighted just days before in Ocean City.

Based on the symptoms (lethargy, depressed behavior, resting position) of the Assateague seal, it was suspected that the animal could have ingested sand, shells and possibly rocks – a behavior of harp seals that is well documented in scientific literature and an experience we have seen in admitted harp seal patients. It is unclear as to why juvenile harp seals ingest sand, rocks and shells, but they are the most common seal species to display this abnormal behavior. This ailment can cause impaction of the stomach and severe dehydration – conditions that can prove fatal, even if treated promptly.

stones from seal surgery

In 2004, our Animal Health team removed more than 1 lb. of rocks
from the stomach of a juvenile harp seal.

Despite the best efforts to treat the young harp seal found on Assateague, the animal’s condition deteriorated quickly and, unfortunately, it expired. After further evaluation, our teams were able to carefully compare photos of the harp seal from Ocean City on Feb 8 and the harp seal from Assateague on Feb 12. We have confirmed that it was the same seal at both locations.

We were initially shocked at this finding, as the seal’s health had greatly declined in a short amount of time. It is always difficult to accept when wildlife rehabilitation cases do not have a successful outcome, but it’s a vivid reality of the profession.

Wild animals are extremely adept at masking their illnesses in an effort to decrease their chances of becoming easy targets for prey, and can often times be much sicker than they outwardly appear. While it doesn’t happen often, we have experienced several situations in the last 22 years where seals quickly collapse from conditions such as respiratory distress, intestinal perforations and sepsis. While these cases can be difficult for staff, we use every opportunity to learn as much as we can from these animals – for the sake of the individual animal and the population as a whole.

In an effort to help us monitor seals in Maryland, please report any seal sightings to the Natural Resources Police Hotline at 1-800-628-9944 or Maryland Coastal Bays Program website.

Illustrating the Effects of Cold-Stunning on Sea Turtles

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

I’m proud to announce that an illustration depicting the physiological effects of cold-stunning in sea turtles, was recently awarded an honorable mention in the 2013 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge! The illustration, which was the result of a collaborative relationship between the National Aquarium and the Johns Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine, was drafted by student Katelyn McDonald.

The illustration depicts the physical and physiological (affecting the function of organs, tissues, and cells) effects of a cold stunning on sea turtles.

cold-stun illustration

 Sea turtles are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature relies on the temperature of their environment. Cold-stunning is essentially hypothermia (low body temperature) for sea turtles. Cold-stunning events in the northeast region cause chronic illnesses for turtles, which must undergo months of rehabilitation. While the turtles may not appear sick externally, the illustration demonstrates the multitude of internal illnesses and complications that result from chronic low body temperature.

cold-stun illustration

A closer look at Katelyn’s illustration of the effects cold-stunning have on sea turtles.

Founded in 1911, the Johns Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine was the first of its kind in the world. This intense two-year graduate program has trained medical illustrators to advance medical and scientific knowledge using illustration.

For more than 20 years, students from this program have worked with our Vice President of Biological Programs, Dr. Brent Whitaker, and staff as part of their training. The illustrations produced from this collaborative relationship have been published in books, journal articles, pamphlets, and training manuals and have been used for a variety of other purposes.

We’re excited that Science Magazine and the National Science Foundation have chosen the cold-stun piece as an Honorable Mention for the 2013 Visualization Challenge. Congratulations to Katelyn on this tremendous accomplishment!

Animal Rescue Expert

First Seal of the Season Spotted in Maryland!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Earlier this morning, we received photo confirmation of the first seal sighting along the Maryland coast!

seal on the beach

Every winter, migrating seals make their way back to our shores. Seals are semi-aquatic, which means they like to spend part of their time in the water and part of their time on land. During migration, seals will typically spend a couple of days swimming south, occasionally hauling out on beaches, rocks or docks to rest.

If you’re lucky enough to see a seal on the beach, it’s best to give the animal at least 100 feet of space and, if possible, stay downwind. Enjoy watching our seasonal visitors from a distance (and take plenty of photos/videos!) but please try not to disturb them, as they still have a long journey ahead of them!

As you see in the photo above, a healthy seal can usually be observed resting in a “banana position,” on their side with their head and/or rear flippers in the air. A seal that is injured, ill or entangled in marine debris, it will often be seen resting flat on its stomach.

If you see a seal that may be in need of medical attention, please call the National Aquarium’s Stranding Hotline at (410) 373-0083 or the Natural Resources Police at (800) 628-9944! 

In Maryland, you can also report seal sightings on the Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s website.

The National Aquarium and Maryland Coastal Bays Program have partnered together to promote responsible viewing of marine mammals, both along the Maryland coast and within the entire mid-Atlantic region. Funding for this joint awareness campaign was provided by the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Looking Forward to 2014!

Before we get too far into this exciting new year, we’d like to first take a moment to thank our amazing online community for their support and love in 2013!

national aquarium thanks you

Together, we were able to accomplish some pretty amazing things this past year and we’re excited to see just what 2014 has in store for us.

Here’s what some our experts are looking forward to in the New Year:

Jenn Dittmar, Manager of National Aquarium Animal Rescue

I’m looking forward to continuing to rehab our current cold-stun patients and coordinating their releases later this year.

national aquarium kemps ridley turtle

I’m also looking forward to hosting the annual dolphin count and coordinating exciting upgrades to our seal rehabilitation facility!

Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m really looking forward to a busy field season in 2014.  We have projects scheduled from New York to Virginia and I always look forward to winter ending so we can start restoring habitats again.

Masonville Cove

This year, I’m also excited about the opportunity to host the National Wildlife Federation and our other state affiliate partners for NWF’s Annual Meeting.  Conservation partners from across the country will be joining us in Baltimore in May and I can’t wait to show off our wonderful Aquarium and our local field projects!

Jack Cover, General Curator

In 2014, I’m looking forward to finding new ways to use our exhibits and animals to raise awareness of the diversity of life that can be found in a healthy beach ecosystem.

longsnout seahorse

Every shell found on a beach has a story to tell and I hope to share many of these stories with you all in the New Year!

Sarah Elfreth, Government Affairs

I’m thankful for the Aquarium community’s support in helping Maryland become the first state on the East Coast to ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins.

maryland shark fin bill

I’m excited to work on other policy issues aimed at protecting aquatic life in 2014!

Holly Bourbon, Curator of Fishes

My team will be focused on so many exciting things in the New Year. Chief among them are our brand-new exhibit, Blacktip Reef, and the settling of animals from our closed Washington, DC venue into their new homes here in Baltimore.

national aquarium loggerhead turtle

One animal from DC, a loggerhead named Brownie, is particularly exciting for us. Brownie is part of the Loggerhead Head Start program, which gives sea turtle hatchlings a head start at a great life . In 2014, I hope to see him reach a releasable size!

Leigh Clayton, Director of Animal Health

2014 is already shaping up to be a very busy and exciting year for me.

In just a few short weeks, I’m be in Orlando, Florida lecturing at the North American Veterinary Conference, one of the largest vet conferences in the US. My lectures will mostly focus on reptiles, covering everything from insectivore nutrition to oral disease.

I’m looking forward to seeing a paper written by one of our prior interns, Dr. Kathy Tuxbur, published in the Diseases of Aquatic Organisms journal. A lot of Kathy’s work with us as an intern focused on horseshoe crabs and the carapace lesions and branchitis that can sometimes present in the species.

national aquarium baby sloth scout

Lastly, I’m looking forward to seeing our newest baby sloth, Scout, continue to grow and mature!

Heather Doggett, Director of Visitor Programs and Staff Training

I am excited to spend more time with my family outdoors, enjoying nature and doing some new citizen science activities with my four-year-old.

local wildlife

I’m hoping to take more hikes in 2014 and record what we find!

What are you looking forward to this year? Tell us in the comments section! 

2013 Re-cap: Great Conservation Moments

The National Aquarium is a 33-year-old conservation organization with one mission: to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures.

Everyday, we live our mission through our exhibits, conservation in the field, education and animal rescue!

As 2013 comes to a close, we’d like to share some of our favorite conservation moments from the past year:

Maryland Shark Fin Bill

In May, Maryland became the first state on the East Coast to prohibit the sale, trade and distribution of shark fins!

maryland shark fin bill

Maryland’s new law is helping to curb the unjust killing of approximately 100 million sharks every year. Our legislative and conservation teams worked very closely with state officials on this important bill.

Over the last year, we were excited to see Maryland, Delaware and New York join California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington in granting sharks this crucial protection.

Animal Rescue Team’s 100th Release

In June, our Animal Rescue team reached an exciting milestone – their 100th release!

national aquarium animal rescue 100th release

As #100, a green sea turtle named Willard, made his way to the water, our team was able to reflect on the last twenty years of care, ’round the clock rescue and treatment, and releases.

Each of the animals that we’ve cared for over the years, from a pygmy sperm whale to seals and sea turtles, has an incredible story. There’s no better triumph for our team than their return into the wild!

The Sea Turtle Trek

In April, our Animal Rescue team joined their colleagues from the New England Aquarium to transport and release 52 endangered sea turtles off the coast of Florida.

the lineup

The 1,200 mile road trip was lovingly named the “Sea Turtle Trek.” The entire journey, filled with lots of driving and midnight stops to pick up turtles from other institutions along the East Coast, could only be described as a labor of love.

Did you miss out on our live updates from the road? Check them out here!

Our First-Ever Chief Conservation Officer

In July, Eric Schwaab joined the National Aquarium as our first-ever Chief Conservation Officer! This newly-created position has been developed to lead our efforts in becoming a national leader in aquatic conservation and environmental stewardship.

national aquarium chief conservation officer

“We are committed to telling the conservation story more effectively…we want to use these exhibits to inspire greater appreciation and conservation action, among visitors, throughout the community and even among those who have not yet visited here in Baltimore” – Eric Schwaab

Want to get more insight into Eric’s future plans for the National Aquarium? Check out our interview with him here!

James Cameron Visits Washington, DC

In June, ocean pioneer and Academy-Award winning filmmaker, James Cameron, visited the nation’s capital as part of his DeepSea America Tour.

James Cameron DC Visit

The purpose of this nation-wide trek, with his submersible the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, was to inspire future generations of ocean explorers!

Our CEO John Racanelli and education team were delighted to be on-site during Cameron’s stop to engage the community in STEM education.

The Endangered Species Act Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Enacted by Congress in 1973, this legislation provides protection for species that are endangered or threatened and conserves the habitats their survival depends upon.

Zoos and Aquariums, including National Aquarium, work closely with the federal government to both conserve habitats and raise public awareness of these amazing species.

In the last few decades, the Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects – making it one of the most effective conservation laws in our nation’s history!

Masonville Cove Becomes First Urban Widlife Refuge

In September, the US Fish & Wildlife Service named Masonville Cove the nation’s first Urban Wildlife Refuge.

Masonville Cove

This new initiative is an effort to make more of our country’s beautiful, natural areas accessible to all populations, especially urban ones!

Ultimately, the goal is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Here’s how YOU can support our conservation mission! 


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