Archive for the 'National Aquarium Animal Rescue' Category



Animal Rescue Update: Loggerhead Patient, Niagra, Has Been Released!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Niagara, a rescued Loggerhead sea turtle, was admitted for rehabilitation to the National Aquarium from the Virginia Aquarium, after accidentally being hooked by a fisherman.

loggerhead sea turtle

Niagara was lucky to suffer only minor injuries from the hook, however he also suffered from an old boat strike injury that caused a shell fracture. While in rehabilitation at National Aquarium, Animal Health staff assessed the condition of the old fracture and provided some basic wound care to allow the fractured area to heal and stabilize on its own.

After only six weeks in rehab, Niagara was successfully released today from Assateague State Park, where a small crowd gathered to bid him farewell.

Stay tuned for updates on the other two loggerheads we currently have in rehabilitation!

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Animal Rescue Update: Two Hooks Successfully Released From Loggerhead Patient!

Animal Rescue Update

Our team recently admitted two loggerheads from Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. One of the turtles, named Portsmouth, had ingested a recreational fishing hook and had to undergo surgery to remove the hook from his esophagus. We successfully removed the primary hook, but was surprised to find a second hook near the same location. The second hook was older, and more deteriorated, so they could only safely remove a portion of the hook that was visible.

loggerhead sea turtle

Animal Health staff at the National Aquarium performed a full physical exam on Portsmouth when he was transferred to our care, including radiographs (x-rays) to assess the location of the remaining hook. While radiographs are extremely helpful as a diagnostic tool, they can only provide a one-dimensional view. Our veterinary staff determined that a Computed Tomography (CT) scan would be a very helpful diagnostic for Portsmouth’s condition. A CT scan is a medical imaging procedure that essentially x-rays a body (or area of a body) around a central axis and produces a large volume of x-ray image ‘slices’ of the body – similar to slicing a loaf of bread. With the help of computer software, the image ‘slices’ can be compiled and manipulated into 3-dimensional images of structures.

Performing a CT scan on a large sea turtle like Portsmouth can be challenging, but the process is very quick (only a few seconds) and is not invasive. In fact, the most challenging part of the process was convincing Portsmouth to leave his watery world for the short trip. Portsmouth was cooperative during the approximately 30-second imaging process, and our veterinarians were able to consult with the radiologists on site about the possibilities of the hooks positioning.

On August 28, 2013, our veterinarians teamed up with Dr. Adam Gonzales, DVM from the Atlantic Veterinary Internal Medicine & Oncology for an endoscopy procedure in hopes of extracting the remainder of the second hook as seen on the x-rays and CT scans. While Portsmouth did have to be sedated for this procedure, the hook itself was fairly easy to remove as it was simply lying among the papillae. Papillae are keratinized projections within the throat which point inward towards the stomach. They are presumed to trap food while excess water is expelled prior to swallowing.

In just a few hours, Portsmouth was back to swimming in his pool, and had worked up quite the appetite – blue crabs, watch out!

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Dolphin Stranding Update: Tentative Cause of Unusual Mortality Event Determined

Animal Rescue Update

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has determined, though preliminary tissue sampling, that the cetacean morbillivirus is to blame for the unusually high number of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins stranding along the East Coast in recent months.

To date, 97 percent of the dolphins tested (32 of 33) are suspect or confirmed positive for mobillivirus. This is the same virus that caused over 740 marine mammals to strand in a similar event back in 1987-88, the last time a massive die-off of bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic Coast like this was observed.

What is the morbillivirus? 

Cetacean morbillivirus is a naturally occurring pathogen in marine mammal populations. It is not infectious to humans. At this time, there is no vaccine that can be easily deployed to stop the spread of the virus in wild, migratory dolphin populations; other than the animals natural ability to build antibodies to the virus.

Recently declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by the federal government, these strandings have now reached numbers over nine times the historical average for the months of July and August for our region.

Although we have established a tenative cause, the UME investigation is still ongoing and stranding teams from New York to Virginia will continue to further evaluate tissue samplings and genetic sequencing. It may be years before we can truly confirm the cause for these strandings.

How is the National Aquarium involved in this event? 

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team responded to a live stranded bottlenose dolphin last Tuesday, August 20 at Assateague Island National Seashore. After a health assessment of the animal, veterinary staff recommended humane euthanasia due to the poor health of the animal. A full necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed by Aquarium staff to determine an underlying cause of stranding. Tissue samples have been submitted as part of the UME, and results are pending.

I have also been assisting the UME Incident Management Team with drafting a weekly Incident Action Plan that outlines objectives for response in the affected areas, staff and equipment assignments, formulating safety plans, and addressing gaps in coverage that arise during response. The Incident Command Structure is very effective when coordinating response to events such as this that cover a broad area and involve multiple government and non-government organizations.

Our team will continue to work closely with regional stranding partners and the federal government to help implement this plan and document this event for future research/learning.

As we continue to closely monitor this situation, stay tuned to the blog for updates! 

jenn dittmar animal rescue expert

Update: Bottlenose Dolphin Strandings Continue in Historic Numbers

Animal Rescue Update

More than 200 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore along the East Coast this summer. This alarming number is seven times higher than what’s normally seen in the Mid-Atlantic region – a statistic which caused the National Marine Fisheries Service to declare an “unusual mortality event.” 

Unfortunately, following the declaration of the the event last week, the has been no curb in the number of dolphins stranding on our shores. It is estimated that 25 dolphins were found in Virginia just over the weekend.

“We don’t know exactly what’s causing it, but we suspect it might be a virus called the morbillivirus,” our VP of Biological Programs, Brent Whitaker, told CNN’s Brian Todd yesterday during an interview here in Baltimore. Click below to watch the entire interview: 

CNN interview at national aquarium

The morbillivirus, a culprit very similar to the measles, killed approximately 740 dolphins in a similar event along the East Coast in 1987.

Although the virus has been found in some of the dolphins studied this year, it will take months for the federal investigation to produce a clear answer on what’s behind this event.

As part of the Northeast Stranding Network, our Animal Rescue and Animal Health teams have been deeply engaged in the efforts to study these dolphins and determine a cause of death.

Stay tuned to the blog for more updates! 

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Unusual Mortality Event Declared in Response to Dolphin Strandings

Animal Rescue Update

Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared an unusual mortality event in the Mid-Atlantic. For the month of July, dolphin mortalities were higher than average for the states of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Stranding responders in these areas are working very hard to keep up with the number of dolphins washing ashore, and have been working to perform necropsies (animal autopsies) on as many dolphins as possible. During a necropsy, biologists look for signs of external or internal injuries, signs of disease or illness, and take routine tissue samples for laboratory analysis. Virginia has already collected over 100 bottlenose dolphin carcasses this year, which is about 20% more than their average for a whole year.

NOAA is compiling data that is being provided by the stranding networks and comparing it to historical numbers. This information will help NOAA determine if there is a widespread trend or if there are common factors across the affected areas. The last time a well-documented die-off took place was in 1987 when more than 740 bottlenose dolphins died in a range from New York to Florida. It took several years to compile test results and determine that the culprit was a measles-like virus known as morbillivirius. While it is unknown what is causing the present day die-off, biologists are not ruling out biotoxins, bacteria or viruses as a possibility. Charley Potter, a marine mammal biologist with the Smithsonian Institute is assisting the Virginia Aquarium with investigating the dolphin deaths, and is concerned that this event could be similar to the 1987 event, but it is still too early to tell.

Stranding networks play an important role in supporting the NOAA Fisheries Service through an array of unique research and monitoring opportunities to fulfill NOAA’s core mission. The national stranding network is a successful public/private venture for monitoring marine mammal strandings. Marine mammals are important indicator species of the ocean health, so monitoring their health through strandings is important for understanding the health of our oceans and the impacts of human activities in a time of significant development and change. The stranding networks and NOAA will continue to work together to investigate incidents such as this, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

What can you do to help during this event?

  • Report any live marine mammal strandings or mortalities to the local stranding response facility. In Maryland, call the Natural Resources Police at 1-800-628-9944.
  • If you do find a stranded dolphin, wait for directions from the local stranding responder – do not touch the animal or try to return it to the water. Doing so could cause more harm.
  • Make a donation to a local stranding response organization. Events like this require a lot of basic equipment, supplies, and fees for processing tissue samples.

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2013 Dolphin Count Results Are In!

Staff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program were joined by volunteers today for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count. This year, 113 dolphins were sighted!

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

Volunteers of all ages braved the rain to help record dolphin sightings at four locations along the Eastern Shore of Maryland – three beach locations in Ocean City and at the Assateague State Park Day Use Area.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

In Ocean City, our team also spotted numerous pelicans and osprey diving for fish!

pelicans ocean city maryland

Annual dolphin counts help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health. Looking at the population numbers over the years can help to determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

We want to send out a big thank you to all those who joined our team today!

Click here for more information on National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and how the general public can assist with rescue efforts!

Assessing the Status of Dolphin Populations Off Maryland’s Coast

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This Friday, July 12, the National Aquarium will participate in our annual Dolphin Count in Ocean City, Maryland. This event (which is free and open to the public!) provides an excellent snapshot of ocean health as well as the status of the dolphin population living off of our shoreline.

Participating in the dolphin count is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a day at the beach?) and requires only a few basic skills, like the ability to identify animals based on fins or body markings.

dolphin count

The goal of the count is to better understand the reproductive rates as well as gain an estimated total number of dolphins in our local population. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding and feeding.  While the bottlenose dolphins found off our shores are not considered to be endangered, this species still faces serious threats such as entanglement and bycatch.

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City. Credit: John Soule

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. Credit: John Soule

Seeing dolphin social groups interact with one another is a rare opportunity for those who join us for this annual event. Dolphin societies function very differently from our own; females and their calves may stay together for life. Males, however, form separate groups called alliances once they are no longer nursing. These bachelor groups will then travel between the female groups to mate.

Our dolphin population consists primarily of animals that were born here at the National Aquarium or at other aquariums around the country. As we try to mimic the natural group settings that dolphins experience in the wild, our six female dolphins live together in a social group and our two juvenile males have formed an alliance as a pair bond.

In the area? Our Dolphin Count event is free and open to the public! Can’t join us this year? Be sure to follow @NatlAquarium and our Animal Rescue expert @JennDittmar on Twitter for real-time updates! 

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