Posts Tagged 'jenn dittmar'



Animal Rescue Update: Harbor Seal Rescued After Shark Bite Injury

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team is excited to announce that we recently received funding to support necessary upgrades to our seal rehabilitation facility! The new upgrades will include new enclosures with larger pools and the addition of life support. Our Animal Rescue and Development staff have been working very hard the last few years to find funding to support these upgrades, and our hard work has paid off. We are currently working with a design group to draft a final set of blueprints, and construction work will be begin in just a few short weeks!

To prepare for the upcoming construction work, our seal rehab area is currently closed and not admitting patients for long-term rehabilitation. Even while closed, we continue to be committed to responding to seal sightings in our response area, and coordinating care of seals that are sick or injured and require medical treatment.

We are working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  and our local associates that can accommodate seals for rehabilitation. We would like to thank the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine, New Jersey for their assistance in admitting two recent patients from Maryland. Several weeks ago, MMSC assisted us by admitting a critical harp seal from Assateague, Maryland, that unfortunately expired the following day.

Most recently, MMSC stepped in to help us by admitting a harbor seal from Ocean City, Maryland that was severely injured. The seal was the victim of a shark bite injury, and required immediate medical attention.

Warning: Some readers may be sensitive to the graphic nature of the following image.

animal rescue seal shark bite

Trained First Responders with the National Aquarium collected the seal and transported it to the National Aquarium for initial care and stabilization. The following morning, the seal was transported from the Aquarium to MMSC for long-term rehabilitation. The seal has a long recovery ahead of him, but is receiving the medical care needed to treat the wounds.

seal in rehab at national aquarium

It is collaborative partnerships like this that make the marine mammal and sea turtle response and rehab network so successful!

Stay tuned for periodic construction updates and a sneak peek of the ‘new’ seal rehabilitation facility when it is completed!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Expert jennifer dittmar

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

An Update on our Sea Turtle Patients!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

The cold-stun turtle season has died down, and 19 turtles are now being cared for by our Animal Rescue team. Fifteen of our turtle patients came from Cape Cod; three traveled South from New Jersey; and one came to our facility from Ocean City, Maryland. Thus far, all 19 turtle patients have taken their rehabilitation in stride! Currently, our team has 8 stable patients, 8 less critical and 3 critical patients.

national aquarium animal rescue

Our hospital pool is teeming with patients!

Cold-stunned sea turtles are typically admitted with abrasions and lesions from the rocky and rough winter seashores. Many also have secondary infections, including pneumonia, upper respiratory infections and joint swelling.

As you can imagine, keeping 19 turtles on track with medical treatments, feedings and enrichment can become quite a handful, but the Animal Rescue staff and volunteers have come together, and the success stories continue to mount! To date, we have three turtles that are completely off medications (which means we are hopeful for release options in the near future) as well as a few turtles that have really turned a positive corner in their treatment and diet plans.

A Kemp’s Ridley turtle named Charlie had a particularly rough start to his rehabilitation process. Charlie was not eating consistently and our veterinary and husbandry staff were having a tough time pinpointing what could be causing the changes in his behavior and health. After a CT scan at John’s Hopkins, several medications and daily ultrasounds, we found a mass near his heart that may have been causing some discomfort and/or health troubles.

national aquarium turtle charlie

Charlie

Over the last few days, Charlie has taken a great leap forward in his rehabilitation! He is not only eating the same amount as the healthy sea turtles, but the mass near his heart is getting smaller and smaller with each ultrasound that our veterinary staff complete!

Another Kemp’s Ridley patient, Blade, underwent surgery with our vet staff last week to repair a shell fracture. We’re happy to report that Blade is recovering well after the procedure and his fracture is officially on-the-mend!

national aquarium sea turtle blade

Blade pre-surgery on January 21, 2014.

As for our other patients, we are continuing to follow treatment plans and behavioral observations so that we can add more of them to our “stable” column. In the meantime, these 19 sea turtles are chowing down on three pounds of food per day — consisting of squid, shrimp, capelin ( a lean fish) and the occasional soft shell blue crab. With a diet like that, and the fantastic care from our staff many releases are sure to come for these beautiful sea turtles!

national aquarium animal rescue expert jennifer dittmar

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


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