Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sea Turtle Necropsies in 2012

Sea Turtle Necropsies in 2012

Each spring NECWA assists Bob Prescott, Director at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and his staff with necropsies (animal autopsies) of cold-stunned sea turtles. These are juvenile sea turtles that had washed ashore dead on the northern shores of Cape Cod.

Every weekend in February, NECWA staff and interns assisted with these necropsies that are conducted in a state-of-the art necropsy facility at the Marine Mammal Center at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Last year, Wellfleet Bay and NECWA spent 3 weekends necropsying over 200 sea turtles that had stranded over the course of a few years. This season, there were fewer sea turtles to necropsy since we had caught up on the backlog created from previous years of strandings.

This past Thursday, Krill was able to bring 3 carcasses to Bridgewater State University so students in Dr. Jahoda's Comparative Anatomy Class could examine them in more detail. This was a great opportunity for Dr. Jahodah's students for it allowed the students to see what is involved in a sea turtle necropsy and how the data is collected. A few of Dr. Jahoda's students are continuing with this work and will be preserving the skeletons for BSU as part of a group project.

So why do these young sea turtles strand each fall and early winter on Cape Cod Beaches? Both juvenile loggerheads and Ridley's normally migrate into our Cape Cod waters to feed over the course of the spring, summer and fall. As fall approaches and water temperatures drop, animals begin to migrate back south into warmer waters for the winter. Unfortunately, some sea turtles get trapped by the arm of Cape Cod for it acts as a physical barrier to their movement south. As water temperatures continue to drop, these turtles become cold-stunned as their body temperature decreases to dangerously low levels. No longer able to swim or function normally, many cold-stunned individuals wash up on the beaches of Cape Cod that border Cape Cod Bay.

For over 25 years, MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay has maintained a sea turtle rescue team comprised of staff and trained public volunteers. Members of this team walk the beaches of Cape Cod looking for cold-stunned sea turtles that have washed ashore. When sea turtles are found, dead animals are collected and frozen for later analysis and live turtles are stabilized at Wellflleet Bay before being transported to the New England Aquarium for treatment and rehabilitation.

Over the past few years, NECWA has been able to include many BSU students in these necrospy events. Last year, 5 BSU students assisted with necropsies including Leah Horeanopoulos, Meghan Donovan, Lauren Babb, Tara Frare and Chelsea Hedderig. This year, Meghan, Tara and Lauren all returned to help necropsy sea turtles down at WHOI as well as 4 of Dr. Jahoda's Comparative Anatomy students that we had just worked with Krill and Dr. Jahoda that Thursday.

Much thanks to Bob Prescott and his team for allowing NECWA to become involved in these necrospy events. These events are great opportunities were students and staff get a chance to meet and work closely with professionals in the field of marine science. And our efforts are helping scientists like Bob Prescott and others to better understand the biology and ecology of these amazing animals.

To read an article in the BSU Newslog, click on the image below.