Posts Tagged 'animal rescue'

Turtle Tuesday: An MRI Scan For Blade


Participating in the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. As you probably already know, the National Aquarium is part of a stranding response network that encompasses the North East region of the United States. Many of the turtles we handle initially are found as “cold stunned” along Cape Cod beaches in Massachusetts.

New England Aquarium stabilizes animals and rehabilitates many, but often reaches out to partner organizations such as us for assistance. This was the case for one of the animals currently in our care, Blade, who came to us last December.

national aquarium animal rescue blade

Blade initially had a large fracture of the upper and lower shell (carapace and plastron) that healed nicely over the first two months of rehabilitation. After initially improving, Blade started to decline significantly in mid-February. Diagnostics showed he was septic (systemic bacterial infection) with a resistant strain of Enterococcus bacteria.

His front flipper digit joints began to swell and it appeared he had bacterial infections developing in them and he stopped using his front limbs. This is very rare in sea turtles; normally digit infections don’t impact their swimming ability.

Radiographs and a CT scan showed the shoulder joints were infected as well. Biopsy and cultures confirmed the joint infection was due to the same bacteria found in the blood.

national aquarium animal rescue blade

After aggressive antibiotic therapy and general supportive care, we were able to resolve the sepsis and distal limb infections and he showed some improvement in strength, but remained unusually quiet and weak and refused to use the front limbs. A physical therapy program was started to improve limb motion.

In order to check for bacterial abscesses in his organs and brain, we took Blade for an MRI scan at Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake. There were was no evidence of organ or brain abscesses found on MRI, although the shoulder joints were abnormal, as expected.

**Photos courtesy of Red Leash Photography

In the last month, Blade has continued to improve clinically and we are planning to do an arthroscopy to remove abnormal and potentially infected tissue from the shoulder joints. Our ultimate goal is to get Blade to a point where we can be released.

Stay tuned for more updates on Blade as his rehabilitation continues!

national aquarium Leigh Clayton

Turtle Tuesday: Three Animal Rescue Patients Ready for Release

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

We are happy to share that three (Charlie, Maverick and Tombstone) of our remaining 6 sea turtle patients are ready for release!

In the past two weeks, these turtles have successfully come off their antibiotic treatments and have a clean bill of health from our veterinary staff! As typical with every release, we’re in the process of scheduling exit examinations, so that each turtle patient can be properly tagged for release later this month!

sea turtle tag

An example of one of the tags used to track some of our released sea turtle patients.

The patients still in-house receiving treatment are Cougar, Blade and Iceman.  Our team is currently trying to manage the ongoing shoulder joint injuries both Cougar and Blade presented with at the time of admittance.

Just yesterday, Cougar traveled to Annapolis with our Animal Health team for an arthroscopy procedure. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure in which an examination is performed using an endoscope inserted into the joint through a small incision.  This procedure allows our veterinarians to better assess the full scope of damages to the area for a better outlook on treatment options.

Cougar is back and resting in his pool with his tank-mate Blade, who is having the same difficulties with his forelimb joints.  Our husbandry staff and team of veterinarians are developing plans for both of these Kemp’s ridley sea turtles so that we can get them back on track and healing properly.

national aquarium animal rescue blade


Iceman is still receiving treatment for some plastron shell abrasions.  Our team was able to remove infected tissue from the areas a last week so that his abrasions could heal properly.

Stay tuned for more updates on our remaining patients, and as always, thank you for supporting our work!

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Animal Rescue Update: 13 Turtles Successfully Released in Florida!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

After five months in rehabilitation, 13 endangered sea turtles were successfully released in Florida last week! The turtles, all admitted for complications from cold-stunning, had made a full recovery and were ready for release. This time of year, the waters in the northeast are too cold for sea turtles, so our staff (and the turtles) got to take a road trip to Florida!

The morning of the release began with a staff briefing at 3:00 AM. After our briefing, staff quickly set up an “assembly line” to make it easier for staff – one staff pulled turtles from their enclosure, while two staff administered fluids and took exit photos of the turtles. Lastly, the turtles were handed off to the last staff member, who gave each turtle a massage of water-based lubricant to keep their shells hydrated and secured them in their designated transport boxes. The turtles were in the transport vehicle and on their way to Florida by 4:30 AM.

national aquarium animal rescue transport

Transport staff reported that the turtles were sporadically active throughout the drive, especially when driving over bumpy sections of road, or during windy conditions. While the turtles relaxed in their crates, our staff counted down the 755 miles that stood between them and their release destination!

The transport team arrived to the release point – Amelia Island – safely. After a release briefing, they quickly got to work unloading the turtles, opening the crates, and giving each turtle a brief final exam. Next came the fun part…releasing the turtles!

**Photos courtesy of Talbot Islands State Park staff!

The turtles wasted no time getting off the beach and back into their home water of the Atlantic Ocean! Some were a little faster than others, but they all eventually made their way to the water. Stinger, a green sea turtle, was the fastest into the water for the first group, and Goose, a Kemp’s ridley, was the fastest for the second group. Chipper, also a green sea turtle, ended up moving away from the water initially, but a staff member came to his assistance and got him back on track.

Release events are always a joyous time to reflect on the impact we’re having on endangered sea turtles. We’re quite literally giving these turtles a second chance at life, and a second chance to help restore their declining populations. You can help support the sea turtle rehabilitation efforts of Animal Rescue by making a monetary donation, or an in-kind donation from our Amazon Wish List!

Stay tuned for more updates on our remaining sea turtle patients! 

Animal Rescue Expert

Animal Rescue Update: 13 Turtles Ready for Release This Week!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team is excited to announce that 13 of our current sea turtle patients in rehabilitation are going to be released this week! Animal Rescue and Animal Health staff have been busy the last few weeks clearing patients for releasing, making sure all releasable turtles have their required tags, and making sure we have all the pertinent paperwork and permits for the transport and release.

This Wednesday, several staff from the National Aquarium will pack the turtles for their long road trip south. So, how exactly do you transport a sea turtle? Each turtle is fitted for an appropriate sized transport carrier, which is padded with foam and towels to provide lots of cushion and support.

Each turtle will receive some fluids just under their skin to help keep them hydrated, and they’ll also get a water-based lubricant massaged onto their shell to help retain moisture, and some sterile eye lubricant helps keep their eyes moist. Finally, each turtle will be packed into our temperature-controlled transport vehicle and will be safely secured for the transport.


Once our vehicle is ready, our staff will make the 800 mile drive to northeast Florida to release the turtles. We’ll have a total of 9 Kemp’s ridley and 4 green sea turtles to release on this trip, and the much warmer waters of Florida are perfect this time of year.

Stay tuned for more updates on their release, as well as updates on our remaining rehab patients!

national aquarium animal rescue expert

Reflecting On the 25 Years Since the Exxon Valdez Spill

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Oil spills have been an on-going topic of interest to the public for centuries, but was rapidly thrust to the spotlight 25 years ago when the Exxon Valdez vessel grounded in Prince William Sound, Alaska and discharged 11 million gallons of crude oil.

**Images via Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Despite a broadened awareness of environmental risks, more stringent regulations and increased safety methods, the efforts to decrease oil spills on a global level have been largely unsuccessful.

There are multi-disciplinary studies to quantify the effects of oil on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the wildlife that inhabits those ecosystems and the social and economic impacts to communities.  The pictures of oiled wildlife from the Exxon Valdez spill, similar to the ones from the Deepwater Horizon spill a generation later, and the recent photos from last month’s Houston ship channel spill are devastating.

Kemp's Ridley BP Oil Spill

This Kemp’s Ridley turtle was recovered from the site of the Deep Horizon accident site on June 14, 2010. Photo via Carolyn Cole/LA Times.

The immediate threat to wildlife and the human communities that depend on healthy natural resources is obvious.  The long-term effects on our ecosystems (through direct exposure of through food chain interactions), while not as readily apparent, is equally concerning.  These emerging impacts are profound in any environment, but when the oil is released in a spawning or nursery area like the Gulf of Mexico, effects can be compounded and impact entire year classes of fish.  A recently published study found that even passing exposure to petroleum compounds can cause damages in developing embryos that may ultimately prove lethal months to years later.

Protecting wildlife from oil spill incidents, and subsequently responding to oiled animals are not easy tasks. While all plants and animals can be affected by oil spills, the most visible and easily accessible animals are typically those that are collected to be decontaminated and rehabilitated. Examples often include birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Oiled wildlife response is just one small part of the overall spill response.

Our Animal Rescue team ensures our preparedness to respond to oil spill events involving marine mammals or sea turtles in our area by participating in oil spill training and drills, maintaining internal protocols, and meeting with the Regional Response Team for our area (RRT III). RRT III is a group of federal, state and local organizations that oversee written plans for response to oil spill events within the region of Pennsylvania through Virginia. These plans, known as Area Contingency Plans, include information such as: environmentally sensitive species/areas, culturally sensitive areas, high risk locations and critical infrastructure.

Our dependence on fossils fuels ensures that there will always be a risk of oils spills. To mitigate for this risk we need to understand the true cost of this dependence and take responsibility for making better life style decisions in our daily routines.

Support and implementation of cleaner energy alternatives will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and the risk of oil spill events.

national aquarium animal rescue expert

An Update on Our Animal Rescue Patients

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

As you saw in last week’s update, 11 of our 19 sea turtle patients are stable and ready for release! We’re working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officials from the state of Florida to set a release date for these animals!

In addition to our turtle patients ready for release, we do still have 8 active medical cases, and some of them have proven to be interesting challenges for our veterinary staff.

Here are updates on a few of our active cases!


Charlie was previously diagnosed with an unknown mass near his heart. After his diagnosis, our veterinary staff prescribed an innovative treatment for Charlie – baby aspirin. He has been responding well to treatment, is eating well, and behaving normally.

national aquarium turtle charlie

A repeat echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) this week revealed that the mass is still present, though reduced in size. While Charlie is showing no clinical signs from the mass, his medical case will continue to be active until we can perform more tests to determine what the mass is, and if it is a symptom of a yet unidentified underlying issue.


Blade was admitted as a cold-stun, but also had a traumatic (possible boat strike) injury to the left side of his carapace and bottom shell that was dangerously close to penetrating through into his body cavity. The good news for Blade is that the suspected boat strike injury has completely healed, thanks to regular wound cleaning and a minor surgery.

national aquarium animal rescue blade

Unfortunately, Blade is still fighting an active infection in his right front flipper, and his condition is still critical. Blade recently underwent a CT scan, and the results indicate an active bone infection in his right shoulder. Bone infections can be difficult to treat, but our Animal Health staff have been working hard to monitor and treat the infection appropriately. Yesterday, Blade underwent additional x-rays, blood work, and a sedated procedure to extract some infected cells so we can identify whether the infection is bacterial or fungal.

Our staff are keeping Blade as comfortable as possible, and doing everything they can to help him fight the infection.

Stay tuned for more updates on our sea turtle patients and be sure to follow me on Twitter for a behind-the-scenes look at our rehab efforts! 

Animal Rescue Expert

A Blue View: Why Turtle Rescue is Important

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 26, 2014: Why Turtle Rescue is Important

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Jenn Dittmar
discuss her team’s important work to
support the conservation of sea turtles!

Did you know that every species of sea turtle in US waters is endangered?

Preserving these amazing and essential sea creatures is of the utmost importance. Every year, our Manager of Animal Rescue, Jenn Dittmar, and her team respond, rehabilitate and release numerous sea turtles found stranded along the East Coast.

national aquarium animal rescue turtle

This year has been another busy season for our Animal Rescue team, with 19 turtles currently being rehabilitated in our facility! Over the last three months, many of our patients have been treated for critical conditions, including: fungal and bacterial pneumonias, infections in their flipper joints and severe shell lesions.

Eleven turtles are now ready for release back into the wild. Aquarium staff is now working with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the state of Florida to schedule a release date.

Get the full story of Chipper, Goose, and Jester, and learn more about their upcoming journey back home.

Want to learn more about what’s threatening sea turtles and what you can do to help? Listen to this week’s interview

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

Sign up for AquaMail

Like us on Facebook!

Twitter Updates