Posts Tagged 'turtles'



Update on the loggerhead in rehab

The loggerhead sea turtle that was admitted at the end of August is doing very well in rehab. She is eating about 2 pounds of food per day; her diet consists of shrimp, squid (calamari!), capelin, and two blue crabs. She’s keeping the staff and volunteers on their toes with how strong she’s getting!

MARP staff has also introduced enrichment into her daily routine. Staff monitors her closely to make sure she cannot destroy or ingest the enrichment items. So far heavy-duty dog toys are doing the trick, since she can’t get her sharp beak on these toys to shred them.

Enrichment

We’ll continue to update you on her progress throughout her stay here at the National Aquarium!

Last Kemp’s ridley turtle released back to sea

From Amber White, Marine Animal Rescue Program Aide

What, to many, seemed like a cold and dreary day this weekend was an exciting day for a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle; after more than nine months in rehab, he was finally ready to go home.

Ready to go home

On October 1, the last of the 11 cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles the Marine Animal Rescue Program took in last winter was released into the Chesapeake Bay from the quiet beach at Point Lookout State Park.

Even though the air temperatures have dropped and it feels like fall, the bay water still provides optimal water temperatures for this little guy to start his new life back at sea.

This turtle was kept in rehab longer than the others for continued observation of his digestive system. We always make sure we give each turtle the absolute best chance for survival in the wild. Unfortunately, in their natural environment, sea turtles come across many manmade materials that look like the food they would eat, such as plastic bags, balloons, and small plastic objects. Ingesting this trash can injure marine animals, or even result in death from asphyxiation.

With his X-rays and final medical examination receiving the OK from our wonderful veterinary staff, he was given the green light for release.

Neither rain nor wind could stop this turtle from making the trek across the sand and back into his natural habitat.

Release

A big thank you to the staff at Point Lookout State Park, for allowing us to use their beach for all of our releases this summer. We have a great partnership with the park staff and always look forward to working with them.

Going on midnight turtle patrol in Costa Rica

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m back in the United States after an amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our last group adventure took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. Relatively speaking, the area around this National Park is pretty developed, and many Costa Ricans come here for the beaches. It has had some problems in the past from pollution from the nearby towns contaminating the streams and development cutting off access for the animals. It has gotten much better, but it will only stay that way if people continue to be diligent.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

The park has several trails that cut through the forest and end up on the beaches of the Pacific. Along the way, our group saw amazing insects like golden orb spiders, baby tarantulas, walking sticks, and huge grasshoppers. We also saw howler monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, white-tailed deer, two- and three-toed sloths, a yellow-crowned night heron, tree boa, and many black iguanas. The monkeys and raccoons have learned to steal food from the tourists on the beach, similar to the way raccoons take food from campers in our parks! If you want the comfort of an accessible park with nearby conveniences, all the while providing spectacular views and glimpses of local wildlife, this park is for you.

Bats, Howler Monkey, Heron

Lesser white lines bats, howler monkey, and yellow-crowned night heron

On Saturday I left the rest of the group at the airport and met up with one of our conservation partners for a trip to the Caribbean. Didiher Chacon, director of WIDECAST (Wider  Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) Latin America, drove us to one of his sea turtle nesting beaches just south of Tortuguerro National Park.

This project is being run by the wonderful people of La Tortuga Feliz foundation, and Didiher has been their adviser for the past couple of years. Like many turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, it is run by just a few staff members and relies on volunteers to do much of the work. The good ones, like this one, also actively seek support from the local community. In this case, the community employs local guides for turtle walks!

We got to the site in the late afternoon after a short boat ride from the nearest town. The staff and volunteers were all amazing, several of them deciding to stay long term after falling in love with the place and the project during their three-week volunteer stint.

Within the hour, we had discovered that one of the leatherback sea turtle nests in the hatchery was erupting and baby turtles were emerging. We helped gather them up for weights and measurements and placed them in a container for a later release. We did not want to release them in the middle of the day when the black sand was too hot and predators could easily spot them. At dusk, we went back down to the hatchery to let them go. It was a truly wonderful experience. I have participated in several nesting events, but never before witnessed this part of the process. What a sight!

After the release, I gave a presentation to the local community and project staff and volunteers on the National Aquarium’s work with sea turtles. There was no electricity at the site, so we hooked the computer and projector up to a generator for the presentation. Since there are very few sea turtle nests in our area, I mostly spoke about the work our Marine Animal Rescue Program does with rescue, rehabilitation, and release of our local species. I talked about the care our patients receive by our veterinary staff and the technologies we use for diagnosis. I talked about the time and effort our MARP staff and volunteers put in to the care of each animal and the joy of watching them be released back into their natural environment. It was easy to connect with my audience (even through the translator) because it was obvious that we were all participating in different but equally important aspects of the conservation of these amazing animals.

At midnight I joined a turtle patrol. Each night during the nesting season, local guides and project volunteers walk the beach to look for nesting turtles. In this region, it’s important to relocate all nests to the hatchery because poaching and turtle hunting is still prevalent, even though it is illegal in Costa Rica. While walking the beach, we saw a group of civil police on patrol. They were there to catch poachers. Later on, we heard that they confronted nine poachers that night and had confiscated a machete, sacks, and other poaching equipment. At first, I was comforted by the police presence on the beach, but Didiher informed me that in his two years on this project, this was only the second time he’s seen them and that they don’t have the resources to patrol regularly. In fact, their presence that evening was only made possible because La Tortuga Feliz paid for the gas for their boat.

The locals I spoke with that evening were passionate about saving these animals, but were disheartened by the continued disregard for the laws, and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the laws. They are working very hard in their outreach efforts, for both local communities and in national campaigns, to emphasize the importance of protecting sea turtles, but as with all movements, this will take time. In the meantime, groups like WIDECAST, La Tortuga Feliz, and, most importantly, the local citizens that are working with them are providing a necessary foundation for the conservation of these species.

Healthy animals make their way home

It’s been an exciting week for the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, as they have traveled across Maryland to release six rehabilitated animals back to their ocean habitat!

Last Friday, the team traveled to Ocean City, Maryland, to release Guinness, the juvenile gray seal that originally stranded in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on March 17, and days later came to the National Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Watch a video of Guinness’ release:

Just two days later, the team traveled to Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland, to release five rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into the Bay. The five turtles, nicknamed Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, Frosty, and Buddy after winter characters, were part of a larger group of cold-stunned turtles that came to the Aquarium from New England in December. As we’ve shared over the past six months, it has been a long journey for these endangered turtles. The release was certainly a celebration for our MARP team, and the hundreds of people who gathered on the beach to help send the turtles back to sea!

Watch a video of the releases:

Our friends at Oceana joined us for the turtle releases to help educate people about their save the sea turtles campaign, which is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations in the world’s oceans. The campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles.

Whenever financially and ethically possible, MARP fits released animals with satellite tags. The tags allow the team to temporarily monitor the migration of reintroduced animals. Whenever the animal surfaces, the tag sends a signal to a satellite, indicating its location.

Thanks to a recent grant, Guinness, Rudolph and Buddy were all affixed with satellite tracking tags. Guinness has already traveled more than 200 miles north, while the turtles seem to be hanging within a 50-mile radius of their release location. You can track their travels on our animal tracking page.

MARP depends on the generosity of volunteers to operate, but medical equipment, medications, and food for caring for these animals is expensive. If you’d like to help support MARP, you can make a donation online, or donate $5 right from your mobile phone by texting ACT to 20222.

A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. All donations must be authorized by the account holder. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Aquarium by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. Messaging & data rates may apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.

Lilly Pulitzer limited-edition signature National Aquarium scarf

We’re excited to announce that renowned designer Lilly Pulitzer has designed a signature scarf to celebrate the Aquarium’s 30th anniversary!

Lilly Pulitzer Aquarium Scarf

The silk and cashmere scarf, in Lilly’s playful hues of aqua blue and coral pink, features several of the Aquarium’s residents—the intelligent octopus, the endangered sea turtle, and the colorful sea stars—as well as a secret message hidden in the print!

Signature Design Print

The best part? Every scarf purchase makes a generous donation to the National Aquarium. Only 500 scarves were made, and are now available for purchase in the Aquarium’s gift shop, a few local Lilly shops, or via this order form, so get yours before they’re gone forever!

And make sure to check out the Lilly Pulitzer blog to see MARP’s Jenn Dittmar featured in Lilly’s Guest House!

A salute to Jimmy & Teddy

This Presidents’ Day, join us in celebrating our two heads of state that are now residing in the Gray’s Reef exhibit at our Washington, DC, venue. Two adorable baby loggerhead sea turtles, named Jimmy and Teddy, came to their new temporary home in the nation’s capital from the North Carolina Aquarium, which is leading an effort to help rebuild sea turtle populations.

Jimmy and Teddy

The two turtles are named after presidents Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well known for his conservation role while president; he greatly expanded the National Parks System. The National Aquarium’s freshwater gallery represents many of our National Parks today. Similarly, President Jimmy Carter designated Gray’s Reef, in the southeastern United States, as a National Marine Sanctuary. A Gray’s Reef exhibit is also represented at the Aquarium, and is the current home for the loggerheads.

Sea turtles have a challenging life. Weighing just 20 grams at birth, they face many natural predators both on the sandy beaches where they are hatched and in the oceans where they will dwell when they get older. Loggerheads were once actively hunted for their eggs and meat, and still are in some places of the world. Because of their low survival rate, they have been classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In order to help save these magnificent animals from extinction, we participate in the North Carolina Aquarium’s program that gives baby sea turtles a better chance at survival. Through this program, sea turtle hatchlings spend time in aquariums where they can safely grow. Once they are given a clean bill of health and an extra boost of nutrition, they are released back to the ocean.

The turtles were hatched on September 1 in North Carolina, and were brought to the Aquarium in mid-November. They have already tripled their weight since they arrived! The turtles now weigh more than 350 grams each. It is estimated that they will weigh around 1,500 grams (a little over 3 pounds) by fall when they will be returned to North Carolina for release into the ocean. Eventually, these turtles could weigh up to 200 pounds!

Under the Aquarium’s care, the turtles are measured monthly and will undergo exams with X-rays and blood work at 6 months old and 1 year old. The staff is also monitoring their calcium levels to ensure healthy shell growth. They are pole fed by the staff, who have noticed that the turtles love to steal food from the fish. They are very quick and love diving to the bottom to pick up leftovers that the fish don’t eat.

Next time you are visiting Washington, DC, stop in to see our adorable heads of state, and salute two presidents who contributed so much to the conservation of some of the most precious habitats our great country has to offer!

Love is in the water

Over the years, many have met their mates at the National Aquarium – and we don’t just mean the animals! There is just something about this place that makes people fall in love. From visitors on first dates, to couples getting engaged or tying the knot in front of our exhibits, to staff members falling for each other, love is always in the air. But with more than 16,000 animals living at the Aquarium, love is also in the water!

In honor of the upcoming holiday we humans created to celebrate love, we thought it would be fun to share some tales of animal dating, er, mating at the Aquarium. It’s no secret that the dolphins at the National Aquarium like to reproduce. Since the dolphin pavilion opened in 1999, we’ve had 13 dolphin births. But dolphins aren’t the only animals at the Aquarium with routine mating habits.

The stingrays in our Wings in the Water exhibit are a busy bunch of animals! Over the last few years, dozens of cownose and southern stingray pups have been born in the exhibit. The southern stingrays were reproducing so quickly that the males had to be separated from the females! And apparently there is one female cownose ray that the males find particularly attractive.

And did you know male and female seahorses dance, change color and lock tails for a short swim during courtship? Talk about romantic! After mating, it is the male seahorses that become pregnant and rear the young. They are nature’s true Mr. Moms! Just last January, one of our male seahorses delivered a tiny group of babies into the world.

Frogs and toads do a song and dance to attract their mates! They were the first vocal land-dwellers that use voice almost exclusively to attract a mate. Each species has its own distinctive voice so females do not waste time following the call of another species. Once a female dart frog finds a singing male of her species, he stops singing and initiates a courtship dance! Some species spin in a circle, while others gently stroke the female’s back with his forelegs. If she accepts his advances, she will follow him to an egg-laying site.

Turtles have a ritual of their own. Many aquatic species of turtles are sexually dimorphic (when the male and female of a species look different) in size, and in some cases, males may be half the size of females. The smaller males often have to use elaborate courtship displays in order to romance the females. This could involve swimming ahead of the female and gently stroking her head and neck with the claws of his front feet, or bobbing his head up and down rapidly. We see these behaviors at the Aquarium between Australian red-faced side-necked turtles.

Perhaps the most unusual mating fact is found in the fishes! Some species of fish undergo a sex change as they grow so they can experience mating and reproduction as a male and a female! The California sheepshead, found in our Kelp Forest exhibit, begins life as a female with pink coloration. When it grows to a length of about 18 inches, it transforms into a male.

We should point out that most species of animals pair up with multiple mates throughout their lives, simply for reproduction purposes. But monogamy can exist in the animal kingdom! Our sweetest tale of animal mating at the Aquarium can be found in the Sea Cliffs exhibit. Like many species of birds, puffins are known to form pair bonds, and can remain in those bonds for life. That has certainly been the case for two young adult puffins living at the National Aquarium. It seems as though these two birds were made for each other…

Victor and Vixen came to the National Aquarium in April of 2004 with two other females. Victor had his choice of ladies, but it wasn’t long before he found a match in Vixen. They had their first egg in 2005 but it turned out to be infertile, which is common for many young couples. Just a year later, they had their first chick, Princess, who still lives at the Aquarium, and just last year they came together to raise their second chick, Vinnie. They are great parents. Last year they fed Vinnie so much that he became quite the chunker!

Though they will probably stay paired for life, these birds aren’t on cloud nine all year round. Puffins in the wild usually come together in pairs only to breed, and then separate until the next breeding season. Even though our birds live in the same area year round, the same rule applies. Come spring, Victor and Vixen will start staking their claim on their burrow (they always use the same one on the far left side of the exhibit) by chasing the other birds away!

On any given day you could catch a glimpse of animals mating at the Aquarium. We sure have! Years ago our video team was able to capture amazing footage of two seahorses completing their mating process. What you’ll see below is a quick glimpse of how a female seahorse transfers eggs to the male!


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