Posts Tagged 'sea turtles'

Animal Rescue Update: Loggerhead Patients Ready for Release!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

It is a bittersweet, yet exciting time of year for the remaining patients at our rehabilitation center.  Our remaining two loggerheads have passed their exit exams with flying colors and will be commuting to the warmer waters of southern Virginia for their release on the 21st of October!

As you may remember, Rooney, one of the first cold-stunned turtles of the 2013 year, has actually been with us since December 23, 2012.

national aquarium loggerhead

Husbandry staff and veterinarians had started treating a chronic abscess that Rooney developed with honey, but quickly realized that the abscess needed to be removed all together.  On June 27th and September 18th, a soft tissue surgeon came in to assist our veterinarians with the abscess removal.

As you can imagine, being sedated for exams and surgeries is a very different experience from what these animals encounter in the wild, so we are very anxious to get Rooney back into his natural habitat where he can swim freely and forage for his favorite foods like blue crabs and squid.  While in rehabilitation with the National Aquarium, Rooney gained 19.3 pounds, and is currently consuming a diet of blue crabs, squid, shrimp and lean fish!

Our second loggerhead, Portsmouth, was transferred to our facility in August.

national aquarium loggerhead

On August 28th, veterinary staff was assisted by a specialist for an endoscopy procedure to remove the last of two hooks he had ingested.  The hook removal was a complete success, and staff starting including more foods into Portsmouth diet, like blue crabs. While in rehabilitation, Portsmouth gained 6.6 pounds!

Husbandry staff are working with the Virginia Aquarium now to get plans for the release into place. Stay tuned for more news and photos from their release! 

national aquarium animal rescue expert

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!


Animal Rescue Update: Two Loggerheads Admitted for Hook Injuries

Animal Rescue Update

Two loggerhead turtles were recently admitted into the care of the National Aquarium Animal Rescue after having been hooked by fishing gear.

Portsmouth and Niagra arrived from the Virginia Aquarium yesterday afternoon, and were met with full medical exams and a new pool. Both turtles were brought to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Center because they had been hooked by fishing gear on a local pier. The fisherman did the best thing for the turtles by calling their local rescue team, who gladly took in the turtles and stabilized them before calling us for a transfer. After quite a ride up to the National Aquarium, Portsmouth and Niagra were ready to go back into the water. They have started a round of antibiotics, which is routine, and will have radiographs taken later this week to check those areas where they were hooked.

Hook injuries like these are not uncommon . Season after season, you will hear marine animal rescue facilities along the coastlines talking about safe viewing of marine animals and helping stranded or injured marine animals in their local areas. As protected species, there are federal laws that protect these animals from human activities such as harassment, poaching, hunting, killing, feeding, and touching within our waterways; however, reporting suspicious incidents, entanglement cases, and sightings or strandings of these animals is not a crime against them…it is actually helping them!

With summer in full swing, and boaters constantly out on the waters, we would like to take this time to talk about sea turtle safety and how YOU can help save them! First, we understand that it is not always easy to spot sea turtles in the open water, as they will only surface for a breath of air. This means that a hint of their carapace (shell) and their head will appear out of the water for a few seconds. Sea turtles are not basking turtles, so you will not find them lounging on rocks or beaches to rest. Spring and summer are often the months where we see an increase in boat strike injuries because of these subtle sightings. Another increase that we see is hook ingestion and entanglement cases that involve fishing gear and marine debris. There are ways to help save these animals, most of which are simple and thoughtful for all marine life!

If you capture a sea turtle while fishing in local waters, immediately contact the appropriate response team and await further instruction. Locally, these teams can be reached at:

Maryland, National Aquarium: 410-373-0083
Delaware, MERR Institute: 302-228-5029
Virginia, Virginia Aquarium: 757-385-7575
NOAA Fisheries Hotline: 1-866-755-6622

While you wait for the response team to arrive, here are a few things to remember:

  • Keep your hands away from the turtle’s mouth and flippers.
  • Use a net or the shell to lift the animal onto land/pier, or into a boat. Do NOT lift the animal via hook or pull on the line. If the turtle is too large, try to guide it to the beach.
  • When you have control of the animal, use blunt scissors/knife to cut the line, leaving at least 2 feet of line.
  • Leave the hook in place, as removing it could cause further damage. NEVER take the hook out on your own and release the animal. The response team wants to make sure that the turtle is safe before releasing it back into the wild.
  • Keep the turtle out of direct sunlight, and cover the shell with a damp towel.

The response team will communicate with you to retrieve the animal for treatment and an exam. We take every precaution to make sure that these animals go back into their natural environment with the best chance possible at survival, and we would like you to join us in this effort by simply educating yourself on the laws for their protection, visiting our website for further insight, and using safe boating practices!

Stay tuned for updates on Portsmouth and Niagra’s stay with the Animal Rescue team!


We’re Ready to Release Our 100th Animal!

Animal Rescue Update

The 2012 cold-stun season for sea turtles in New England broke records. National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team helped out our colleagues at the New England Aquarium by admitting 13 sea turtles for rehabilitation last December. We transported several turtles to Florida for long-term rehab and release in January, and several more for release to Florida in April.

We currently have four remaining turtles in our rehab center: two Kemp’s Ridleys (Duckie and Bender), a green (Willard), and a loggerhead (Rooney). We are very excited to announce that three of the four turtles are ready for release!

Any release is a cause for celebration, but this release is extra special, as we’ll be celebrating the release of our 100th animal! Actually, Duckie, Bender and Willard will represent our 100, 101 and 102 animals released! Since 1991, National Aquarium Animal Rescue has been responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles found along the Delmarva Peninsula (which encompasses Delaware, Maryland and Virginia).

In the last twenty years, our team has cared, rescued, treated and released a variety of species to their natural habitats, including: seals; sea turtles; rough-toothed dolphins; a harbor porpoise; a pygmy sperm whale; and a manatee. Each of these animals has an incredible story, and there is no better triumph than returning a healthy animal to the wild! You can read some of these stories on our website.

We’re excited to announce that our 100th release will be open to the public. Find out more details below:

National Aquarium 100th Rescue Animal Release

Saturday, June 22
4:00 pm EST

Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, MD
The release will occur at the Swimming Beach
Normal park entrance fees will apply

Join our National Aquarium Animal Rescue team as we release three turtles: two Kemp’s Ridley’s (Duckie and Bender) and a green (Willard).

Staff from the National Marine Life Center will also be on-site to release four rehabilitated sea turtles!

Sea turtles utilize the Chesapeake Bay as a source of food during the summer months. The two Kemp’s ridley’s and the green sea turtle that we will release this Saturday will likely remain within the Bay for the rest of the summer before migrating south in the fall. The loggerhead will remain in rehabilitation for long-term treatment of a chronic medical issue and will be released at a later date.

We hope you can join us to say farewell to Duckie, Bender, and Willard!

If you’re not able to join us on the beach, be sure to follow me on Twitter  for live updates, and leave your well-wishes for the trio in the comments below.


Thoughtful Thursdays: Endangered Species Spotlight on Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

Endangered Species Day, celebrated on May 17th, was established to raise awareness of the issues (both human-related and ecological) facing endangered species and their habitats. 

To help further amplify this day, we’ll be highlighting some endangered species that can be found in our home state of Maryland, at the National Aquarium and around the world! Our hope is that as this week progresses, others will feel inspired to help us protect these amazing animals! 

Animal Rescue Update

Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii sea turtles are the smallest of all the sea turtle species and are listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN. “Small” is a relative term for sea turtles, as the Kemp’s can weigh as much as 80 to 100 pounds as adults, and their shell can grow to about 2 feet long. Their carapace (top shell) is usually heart-shaped and brown to grey in color.

kemp's ridley

A rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley turtle being released by National Aquarium staff.

Kemp’s ridley’s are highly migratory and seasonal visitors to Maryland waters. They can often be found in coastal areas, including the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast, from late May to October. While here, they feed on an assortment of crabs, shellfish and jellies, and will occasionally munch on seaweed. Cooler water temperatures in the fall signal the turtles to migrate south – reptiles are ectothermic, meaning their internal body temperature is dependent on the water temperature.

kemp's ridley

One of our current rehabilitation patients munching on a blue crab.

Along the northeast and mid-Atlantic in late fall and early winter, Kemp’s can become victims of cold-stunning. Cold-stunning is effectively hypothermia (low body temperature), which causes the turtles to stop eating and ultimately become severely sick. The 2012 cold-stun season was a record for the northeast. We currently have two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in rehabilitation with our National Aquarium Animal Rescue team, and both were admitted as cold-stuns.

kemp's ridley

Since being listed as an Endangered Species in 1994, the US and Mexico have worked cooperatively to protect critical nesting habitats for the Kemp’s, resulting in an increase in successful nesting and hatching. Kemp’s still face many threats, though, many of which are human-related. The good news is that YOU can help protect Kemp’s ridley sea turtle populations!

Stay tuned for more features on endangered species this week! 


Animal Rescue Update: Loggerhead Hatchling Scheduled for Release!

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team has just received word that the loggerhead hatchling we rescued in October has passed his exit exam and will be released off the coast of North Carolina tomorrow (weather permitting)!

The loggerhead hatchling during it's exit exam earlier today!

The loggerhead hatchling during it’s exit exam earlier today!

First discovered on Assateague Island National Seashore just days before Hurricane Sandy, our team rescued and began caring for this loggerhead sea turtle hatchling. This was the first time our team had ever spotted a viable sea turtle hatchling on Maryland shores and the youngest turtle patient we’ve ever had at the Animal Care Center. Once it was deemed strong and healthy enough, the hatchling was transported to North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for further care.

We’re so thrilled that this little guy has continued to grow and is now ready to be released back into the ocean!

Stay tuned for a re-cap of his release!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Collaborative Conservation Efforts In the Name of Sea Turtles!

Animal Rescue Update

Staff with the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) recently returned from a several-day road trip adventure named ‘Sea Turtle Trek’ to transport and release 52 endangered sea turtles off the Florida coast. National Aquarium joined staff from the New England Aquarium to transport the precious cargo from both of our facilities and several of our regional stranding partners, including University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center, National Marine Life Center, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, Virginia Aquarium, South Carolina Aquarium.

The turtles that were transported for release had stranded during the record-breaking 2012 cold-stun season and were treated at the rehabilitation facilities mentioned above.

The overall transport began around 5 am on Saturday, April 6th in Biddeford, Maine and finally arrived to the release beach just north of Jacksonville, Florida around 9:30 am on Sunday, April 7. During the transport, we stopped several times to meet our partners and pick up additional turtles.

By the last stop to meet the South Carolina Aquarium, the transport staff were challenged to make all of the transport boxes fit safely into the four Chevrolet Suburban’s – it was like a big game of Tetris at 5 am!

By the last stop to meet the South Carolina Aquarium, the transport staff were challenged to make all of the transport boxes fit safely into the four Chevrolet Suburban’s – it was like a big game of Tetris at 5 am!

The turtles rode in a climate controlled environment, and were monitored by biologists from both transporting facilities. Since turtles have all the same bodily functions as every other animal, the staff were relieved to stop for short breaks every few hours and catch some fresh air.

After arriving to the release location, the turtles were unloaded from the vehicles to adjust to the sunlight and warm Florida weather. Staff massaged the turtles’ muscles to combat possible muscle fatigue, and many of the turtles became quite active in their transport crates. Finally, the turtles were lined up on the beach by facility and released in groups.

SeaTurtleTrek release

It’s always interesting to see all the individual personalities of the turtles – some turtles take off for the water as quickly as possible and don’t look back, while others need a little more coaxing.

seaturtletrek team

Turtle releases are always a cause for celebration, and this one was no exception. Staff gathered for lots of photos with the turtles, and several group photos after the releases.

Staff then celebrated with a much needed lunch on the water near the release location, where there were lots of smiles and sharing of photos from the release. By 4pm we were back on the road again and headed north to our overnight location of Jekyll Island, GA. Our friends at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center were gracious enough to let us use their facility to accomplish our final task of the day –cleaning transport crates. The team came together to wash, disinfect, and dry 52 transport crates in just under 40 minutes. By the time the vehicles were packed up with clean crates, we were ready for showers, some dinner, and lots of sleep!

52 clean transport crates_PC NEAq

Photo via New England Aquarium

After breakfast the following morning, we took a short walk on Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island – the beach there is amazing, and a photographers dream. After the walk, we returned to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to meet with our colleagues, tour the facility, and listen to a lecture from Dr. Terry Norton. After visiting the gift shop and saying good-bye to the wonderful staff at Georgia Sea Turtle Center, it was time to travel north once again and head home.

Driftwood Beach

This collaborative transport and release event is a true testament as to how stranding and conservation organizations work together to accomplish a common goal. We collectively responded to a record cold-stun season by bringing staff, resources, and facilities together to save as many endangered sea turtles as possible. The staff commitment from all these facilities is never in question – whether it’s providing animal care on holidays, responding to stranding events at moment’s notice, or traveling the entire East coast to transport and release turtles – we’re in it together!


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