Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29, 2012 Ocean Sunfish Stranding on Sandy Neck Beach, Barnstable MA

Ocean Sunfish Stranding - Barnstable MA


Dead ocean sunfish on the beach.
Just when I thought there was going to be a little down time, I get a call from Ranger Nina Coleman at the Sandy Neck Beach Park about a dead ocean sunfish in the surf.

The crew! Ranger Nina, Ed, Kevin and Christine. 

Over the past few days, Ranger Nina and her team have been picking up many cold-stunned sea turtles so this was a bit of a change for them. Ranger Nina met me at the Park's Gatehouse around 1 pm and offered to drive me to the carcass. Once I transferred all my gear and equipment to the park's 4-wheel drive truck, we were off and were accompanied by two local journalists, Christine and Kevin.

Ocean sunfish getting weighed.
We were met down at the beach by resident Ed White who took an interest in this carcass. With Ed's help, I was able to weigh this carcass which Nina had very accurately predicted to be around 368 lbs.

Ed photographing the carcass. 

Ranger Nina had to return to the Gatehouse and were joined by Kevin and Christine. But Ed stayed on to help me take down NECWA's portable weighing trips and collect measurements on the carcass. I have measured many ocean sunfish carcasses by myself, but it is so much easier and so much nicer to have excellent company like Eds. We chatted away as we continued to work through the early afternoon.

Ovary removed from the carcass. 
I opened the body cavity to find the gonad in order to determine the sex of this carcass. This was a girl! Unlike most bony fish, ocean sunfish have only 1 gonad. But female ocean sunfish are said to produce the largest number of eggs over the course of their lifetime, over 300 million!

As I continued to work, Ed had to leave to pick up his daughter. With a little extra time on my hands as I waited for Ranger Nina to return, I extracted the entire digestive tract from the carcass. The length of the entire digestive tract from the beginning of the stomach to the end of the large intestine was 21 feet.


Ranger Nina helped me clean up and then we were off to the Gatehouse once again. Thanks so much to Ranger Nina and the other rangers who work under her. What an incredible team! And thanks to Ed for all his help today. Again, I meet the nicest people doing this work with ocean sunfish and am surprised at how knowledgable people are about the natural life around them.

November 26, 2012 Ocean Sunfish Stranding in Kingston, MA

Dead Ocean Sunfish at Rocky Nook, Kingston MA

Ocean sunfish carcass finally exposed at the water's edge. 
View of ocean sunfish carcass looking back towards the beach. 
This morning, Nancy Borsari called to report a dead ocean sunfish in Kingston, MA. Most strandings of ocean sunfish occur on Cape Cod so this was an usual sighting for us.  With a quick call, Leah was at my house and ready to head out to Kingston to find and necropsy this carcass.

Leah taking photos of carcass. 
Since NECWA is a volunteer non-profit, Leah was helping out on her own time. Leah recently graduated from Bridgewater State University in Biology and has been with NECWA for many years. NECWA is grateful for her help and the help of the other biologists and professionals within the community that volunteer their time and expertise on behalf of these amazing animals. Thanks Leah!

Head-on view of this ocean sunfish. 
In an effort to help us locate this carcass, Nancy met us down at Rocky Nook and directed us to where she had seen the carcass the day before. Tides and currents can quickly move a carcass from one location to another, so having someone with first-hand information on the beach is very helpful.

Leah standing on rocks to get a more complete photograph of the carcass. 
We found the carcass, but it was covered by a foot of water. The tide was ebbing so we decided to all meet back at Rocky Nook later that morning. When we returned, the carcass was completely exposed on the beach and this allowed us to finally start our external examinations.


The first order of business was to collect as many photographs of the carcass as possible. Then we set-up our portable weighing tripod and weighed this carcass which came close to 300 lbs. With Nancy's help, we collected a number of body measurements and then sampled tissues for later DNA analysis.

Nancy recording the weight of the carcass on our data sheet. 
Portable tripod in action!
Our final activity was to open up the carcass to determine the sex of this ocean sunfish. This turned out to be a male fish as Leah quickly found the testes close to the vent. Ocean sunfish are a bit different than most fish for they only have one gonad or sex organ. 

Cut from the vent up to expose the gonads. 
Testes extracted so we can measure and weigh. 
As dusk was approaching, we had to pick up the pace a bit. We did examine the entire digestive tract, from stomach to large intestine and measured its length at close to 17 feet!  When we were done, we were tired and wet and smelly as ocean sunfish have a very strong smell, especially ones that are decomposing. 

Entire digestive tract - close to 17 feet in length. 
A big thank you to Nancy and her mom Ann for helping us locate and necropsy this carcass. One of the benefits to our work is meeting incredible people like Nancy and Ann and having their support for the work we do in the New England area. NECWA is a team effort and we appreciate all the help from members of the community! Thanks again Nancy and Ann!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 26, 2012 Rescue of a Live Loggerhead from Bourne, MA.

Loggerhead resting in the back of Tammy's car during transport. 

Yesterday while Krill and Leah were responding to an ocean sunfish stranding in Kingston, MA, Tammy headed down to Sandwich and then Bourne to help MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay rescue stranded sea turtles. 

At least 20 live animals washed ashore on Cape Cod Beaches yesterday so the Audubon staff and their volunteers were very busy. Here are a few photos of the live loggerhead that Tammy picked up from Bourne and transported to Wellfleet Bay for stabilization.

Loggerhead during transport. 
NECWA staff are always involved in many different activities and projects and we support other nonprofits like Wellfleet Bay as much as possible. And Wellfleet Bay supports our ocean sunfish stranding and response network by helping us with many of the ocean sunfish stranding reports on Cape Cod. These types of collaborations make sense since many nonprofits are working for the same goal - towards the better protection of our coastal marine wildlife. 


As we continue to find ourselves in this fall/winter stranding season for sea turtles, we ask that anyone who finds a stranded sea turtle contact MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay immediately. Do not put the sea turtle back into the water. Call MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and provide information as to the location of this animal, alive or dead. Their hotline is available 24 hours a day. Call 508-349-2615 x 104.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 24, 2012 Leatherback Sea Turtle Examination

The NECWA team! Staff and volunteers working together.
Amanda and Jamie with the leatherback carcass. 
Leatherback Sea Turtle Examination at Humarock Beach, Scituate MA.

Michael next to the leatherback carcass.
Today, NECWA staff and volunteers headed to Humarock Beach in Scituate to find and examine a dead leatherback sea turtle reported in this area the day before. Rick Foley, a resident of Humarock, found this carcass just a few hundred feet from his house. 

Tiffany, Patty, Rick, Michelle, Amanda and Jamie.
The NECWA team consisted of a nice mix of young and old. We had NECWA staff members Patty, Tiffany and Krill along with volunteers Michelle and Michael. We also had two young ones with us. We had Michelle's daughter Amanda and my son Jamie. They were very interested in our examination of the sea turtle carcass and had a lot of fun chasing the waves. Needless to say they were totally soaked by the time we were ready to head home. 

Amanda and Jamie having fun chasing the waves. 
Michelle holding the phone for Krill since her gloves are quite messy.
Thanks to everyone who assisted today in this examination. We met new friends and learned a lot through our examination of this carcass. We collected photographs, body measurements and tissue samples and this material will be provided to MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay to support their research on sea turtles in the New England area.

Collecting measurements on the carcass. 
Tiffany measuring the carcass.  
From our examinations, it is difficult if not impossible to say why this young leatherback sea turtle stranded and died. But this is the season where many sea turtles wash ashore, live and dead, due to cold-stunning. Although we hate to see any animal wash ashore dead, each carcass provides valuable information that will help us better understand and protect those living animals in our water. 

Tiffany and Krill measuring the carcass. 
Tiffany and Krill measuring the carcass. 
 Much thanks to Rick for all his help and support.  And thanks to Michelle, Amanda, Michael and Jamie for their help and support as well.

Getting a look at the throat spines on this leatherback. 
NECWA is an organization that includes anyone and everyone who has an interest and love of nature. We are successful for we are a team of staff members, interns and volunteers who care enough to get involved. Everyone has a big role to play in helping to protect coastal marine wildlife and we encourage one and all to get involved in any way that you can.

Tiffany and Krill with the left flipper. 


Examinations. 
If you see a stranded ocean sunfish, please call Krill at 508-566-0009. If you see a stranded torpedo ray or sea turtle, call MA Audubon (day or night) at 508-349-2615 x104. If you find a sea turtle, do not push the animal back into the water. Call MA Audubon right away so their staff can retrieve the animal as quickly as possible. 

Krill at work.

Walking the beaches for stranded sea turtles with MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay


On November 23, 2012 a number of NECWA staff members and volunteers helped MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay walk Sandwich beaches that border Cape Cod Bay in hopes of finding stranded sea turtles. The day before, MA Audubon found 10 live sea turtle on these same beaches. 

Michael with one of the sea turtle carcasses. 
Participating in this rescue effort were NECWA staff members Patty, Tammy and Krill. Helping out were Michael and Jamie.  Our NECWA team coordinated efforts with Michael Sprague, staff member at MA Audubon. This team covered the beaches from the Cape Cod Canal to the west side of Sandy Neck, Barnstable. 

Krill picking up trash during the walk.
Unfortunately, only two sea turtles were found and both were dead. Michael Spragaue found both carcasses and took them back to Wellfleet Bay headquarters for processing. Both carcasses were Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtles in our area. 

Jamie helping look for sea turtles.
If you find a stranded sea turtle, please do not put it back in the water. These animals are cold-stunned and need medical assistance through rehab. Please call MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay day or night. Call 508-349-2615 x104.

Given the high volume of trash on these beautiful beaches, NECWA will be conducting an informal beach cleanup next month. Hope you can join us. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Update on Ocean Sunfish Strandings in the New England Area

Dragging the canoe to the narrow channel off Great Island.
This season, NECWA has responded to 21 stranded ocean sunfish along the shores of Cape Cod and in the Buzzard Bay area. Many of these giant fish washed ashore just after the nor'easter and most have been located in the Wellfeet area.

Tiffany and Jessica helping to carry some gear. 
Deploying the canoe. 
With the help of many people and organizations, NECWA has been able to measure, photograph and necropsy 21 ocean sunfish carcasses.  And with the help of the staff from MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay, we have collected much information on these carcasses that will be used to help protect living ocean sunfish.

Jeff and Michael giving Jessica and Leah and push into the channel.
And much help has been provided by people within the community. As an example, Jeff, Wellfleet's Herring Warden, has helped NECWA tremendously by locating many of the ocean sunfish that stranded dead in Wellfleet this past week. And he even commandeered a canoe to help NECWA and MA Audubon get to Great Island late on Sunday, November 11th, so we could access 3 dead ocean sunfish and 1 torpedo ray. Jeff got us and our gear to Great Island and made sure to get us all home safely once the work was done.

More carrying to the next narrow channel. 
Krill and Patty are heading back to Wellfleet tomorrow to try and necropsy the last of the ocean sunfish carcasses in the area. We hope that this is the end of our ocean sunfish stranding season, but assume that a few more carcasses will be reported before the end of the year. Last season, our last carcass washed ashore on Sandy Neck in Barnstable in mid January.

Michael with a dead torpedo ray.
Thanks to everyone who has helped us with our ocean sunfish stranding season. This is truly a group effort and we want to thank all who have provided information or who have assisted on site during the necropsies.

Ocean sunfish #1 on Great Island.
Please call Krill at 508-566-0009 if you see a live or dead ocean sunfish. The information that we are collecting is being shared with other researchers around the world and is helping scientists better understand this beautiful and very unusual fish.

Ocean sunfish #2 on Great Island. 
Michael starting the internal examination of this carcass. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

November 8, 2011 - Ocean Sunfish Stranding in Brewster

Ocean Sunfish stranding at Breakwater Beach, Brewster MA


This morning, Krill received a call from Merriellen who lives in Eastham. She was walking Breakwater Beach looking for cold-stunned turtles for Mass Audubon when she found a dead ocean sunfish just off the parking lot. Krill headed down to Brewster to try and find this carcass on the low tide. Michael Sprague from Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay took time out of his busy schedule to help as well.
Merriellen putting the strap under the carcass. 

Merriellen and her husband Michael met Krill and Michael Sprague (MA Audubon) back on the beach later that day to help collect body measurements and to photograph this animal. Working as a team, Merriellen, her husband Michael and Michael Sprague helped Krill weigh this carcass which came in at a little over 260 pounds. This was not a fresh carcass so the weight does not reflect the true weight of this animal before its death.

Merriellen and Michael Sprague helping secure the straps under the fish. 
Then this team worked together to conduct an internal examination of this carcass. Unforutnately, we wer enot able to determine the gender of this carcass for scavengers had eaten away this organ. But we were able to collect tissue samples including the a section of the liver, a section of the vertebra and the eye lens. These tissues will be used for later analysis as we try to better understand this unusual, but fascinating fish.

Merriellen's husband Michael lending a hand. 

A big thank you to Merriellen and her husband Michael for their help with the necropsy today. So great to meet such amazing people who are enthusiastic and passionate about wildlife and their protection. Merriellen, keep up the great work with your sea turtle rescues and keep us posted on any additional ocean sunfish strandings on this beach.

Merriellen using the chain lift to lift the fish off the beach for weighing. 
Thanks also to Michael Sprague who has helped Krill with quite a few ocean sunfish examinations this season. Love his enthusiasm and support as well.