Posts Tagged 'national park service'

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.

Animal Rescue Update: Turtle Nest Excavated at Assateague

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

National Aquarium Animal Rescue staff recently joined the National Park Service (NPS) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) to excavate a loggerhead sea turtle nest at Assateague Island National Seashore.

loggerhead nest

The nest during excavation (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

The nest, laid on July 1, 2013, has been monitored by NPS staff for the past three months. While the typical incubation period for sea turtle nests south of North Carolina is approximately 60 to 70 days, northern sea turtle nests, such as those laid in Virginia, Maryland and even Delaware, are known to incubate for a longer period of time due to typically cooler temperatures.

After 110 days, this nest had not hatched and an excavation was planned for Friday, October 18. Excavation of nests is a standard practice to determine hatchling success and stage of development. During the excavation, the team collected detailed data such as depth and dimensions, temperature, as well as number of eggs in the nest.

temp reading in loggerhead nest

The excavation team taking a temperature reading (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

It was determined during the excavation that the turtles had not yet hatched, and there was still a possibility that the nest was viable. The eggs were carefully transferred to a transport container and brought back to our Animal Care Center for incubation.

loggerhead egg transport

Our Animal Rescue staff carefully placing the loggerhead eggs in a transport carrier (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

Our team is working closely with the Aquarium’s senior herpetologists to carefully incubate and monitor the nest. We are slowly warming the nest in a temperature controlled, humid environment and should have the nest warmed to an ideal temperature within a week. Sea turtles are reptiles and are therefore sensitive to temperature changes, so the process must be done very slowly. While we have seen signs of a potentially viable nest, we are cautiously optimistic about the total number of live hatchlings that might emerge.

As you may recall, we experienced the first confirmed successful sea turtle nest in Maryland last year. Our team was ecstatic to hear that the lone surviving hatchling from that nest was released off the coast of North Carolina back in April!

This nest represents a larger joint initiative with our partners at NPS and MD DNR to plan for and respond to these events.

Stay tuned for more updates on the nest! 

Blog-Header-JennDittmar

Celebrate our National, Natural Treasures on July 4th!

Blog-Header-ConservationExp

The 4th of July is a day filled with friends, family, parades, fireworks, cookouts, and flags – all in celebration of American Independence! It’s an important day to celebrate our history, our culture and our freedoms.

This 4th of July, I’d like to highlight our natural wonders, cultural treasures and the determination of the men and women that made sure they were protected and available to everyone. During the time when westward expansion was at its height, there was also a growing recognition that the young United States held some amazing landscapes, worthy of preservation.

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872 and “Americas Best Idea” was born. In 1903, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was created. It was an important step forward in also preserving vital habitat for wildlife.

One of every three acres of land in the United States—nearly 600 million acres—belongs to the public. These lands are the country’s special, one-of-a-kind natural resources. These are the national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, coastal preserves, forests, grasslands, marine sanctuaries, lakes and reservoirs that all of us use to hike, bike, climb, swim, explore, picnic or just simply relax.

Here in Maryland, there are 16 National Parks and 5 National Wildlife Refuges. Together, they boast more than 6 million visitors a year – deservedly so. Bald Eagles and Osprey take their turn nesting on these undeveloped sites. Snow geese, black ducks, tundra swan and other waterfowl by the tens of thousands visit our refuges each winter as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Endangered species like the piping plover and loggerhead sea turtle use the Assateague coast for nesting.

Ft. McHenry

Part of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine.

These parks, along with other protected areas like National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas, are often well managed and are less influenced by outside stressors, such as development, overfishing and habitat degradations, that strain the health of our natural ecosystems. Protected areas such as these are national treasures, and we must all do our part to ensure their long-term survival and sustainability.

The National Aquarium’s Conservation Team (ACT!) has partnered with the National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore vital habitats at places like Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and Eastern Neck and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuges. Over the past 14 years, with the help of community volunteers, we have planted more than 1.5 million native plants and restored more than 170 acres of vital habitat on protected lands.

Now, more than ever, is the time to advocate for more areas, aquatic and terrestrial, under protection. The world does not need one more shopping mall. We DO need clean water, clean air, and places to fish, kayak, hike, bike and sail.

This 4th of July, I encourage you to get outside and celebrate our national, natural treasures! Go check out a National Park or Wildlife Refuge near you.

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

MARP Caring for Rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchling and Nest

Our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) is currently caring for a rescued loggerhead sea turtle nest of 160 eggs and one live hatchling found on the north end of Assateague Island National Seashore.

baby loggerhead turtle

Baby loggerhead turtle hatchling and egg

The nest, which had been incubating in the sand since the end of July, was excavated by MARP and staff from the National Park Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources late last month before the arrival of high winds and waves from Hurricane Sandy.

turtle eggs

Rescue staff examining eggs during the excavation

The area off Maryland’s eastern shore never has had a confirmed viable sea turtle nest until now. Our MARP team is working closely with various representatives from North Carolina that are experienced with sea turtle nest incubation and hatchlings, including North Carolina State Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Aquarium, and NC State University, to determine the needs of the nest.

turtle eggs

Turtle eggs being documented

The live turtle hatchling is swimming strongly and enjoying supervised deep dives to build endurance. The baby has become stronger and stronger every day and recently reached a milestone by enjoying its first overnight swim. The MARP team is closely monitoring its health while providing antibiotics as a precaution.

baby turtle

The baby turtle is enjoying supervised swims to build up its strength!

loggerhead turtle hatchling

Loggerhead turtle hatchling

The turtle nest was found in sand that was approximately 66 degrees; low temperatures lessen the success rate of turtle nests. Following the arrival of the nest, our team has raised the temperature of the nest to 80 degrees. The eggs require time, moisture and heat, which the MARP team is providing at our off-site Animal Care Center. So far, there is no activity from the nest itself but we are monitoring it closely. According to North Carolina State Wildlife Resources Commission, the hatch success of loggerhead sea turtle nests in North Carolina is about 75%. Unfortunately, nests laid at higher latitudes have a decreased chance of hatch success, which is due to lower temperatures and increased incubation time.

turtle nest

The area where this turtle nest was found is much colder than the typical turtle nest.

The average incubation time for a loggerhead nest in warmer climates is 70 days. Due to the colder temperatures, nests in the Maryland area require more time, not hatching for more than 100 days. Last year, a nest was found in Delaware that did not hatch until day 109. Information from these nests is being collected and evaluated by the National Aquarium, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Park Service, to aid in drafting sea turtle nesting guidelines for Maryland.

turtle rescue

The Marine Animal Rescue Program team continues to care for the young hatchling at our off-site Animal Care Center

National Aquarium team members hope to rehabilitate the young turtle hatchling to a point where it is strong enough to be released. They plan to release it into warmer waters in conjunction with North Carolina State Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina Aquarium.

Stay tuned to hear more about this rescue here on our WATERblog!


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