Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Harp Seal carcass off Center Hill Reserve, Plymouth

Well, it has been a busy few weeks for the Anderson's as they continue to find seal carcasses on their beach. This time, the carcass was a juvenile male harp seal that was close to 4 1/2 feet long. NECWA's resident seal scientist, Belinda, was not able to join the response team, but did confirm the species ID and sex of this animal. This was a male seal. With the help of the Anderson's, Nick and Krill headed down the beach to locate and examine this animal. Level A measurements were collected with include measurements and photographs of body parts.

Nick took the lead on this examination with the help of the Anderson's. This carcass appeared to be a few weeks old, but was fully intact. The only scavenger damage noticable was on the left side of the head.

As Nick measured the length of the carcass and its girth, Krill took photos of these parts and the process in general. In this digital age, photographs are a key component to this type of work. The information they provide not only complements the measurements that are collected, but also expands the information by provided a visual record. And photographs can act as a back-up in case measurements or recorded observations were not collected.

Everyone would rather observe and photograph live seals that live and feed in our New England waters. In fact, during this examination, there were quite a few live harbor seals hauled out on the rocks along the shores of the beach. (The photos below are from Tim Crowninsheild taken of harbor seals off the Cape this year.) But these types of on-site examinations are important as the information they provide help scientists at the New England Aquarium learn more about the life history and ecology of these incredible marine mammals.

If you do see a carcass of any type of marine mammal (seal, dolphin, porpoise, etc.) on the beach, call the hotline at the New England Aquarium. They will call their volunteer responders like Krill and Nick and ask them to check out the sighting and report back with data and photographs. If the animal is alive and on the beach, time is critical in terms of when you make the call.

Often, seals will haul out on our beaches to rest for a few hours. Healthy seals should be left alone and observed from a distance. At other times, the seal or other marine mammal is in distress and is in need of medical attention. That is where the expertise of biologists and scientists at the New England Aquarium come into play. So the timing of the call and how fast a responder can get to the animal are often critical.

Adults 18 and older can volunteer with the rescue center at the New England Aquarium in Boston. If interested, contact the aquarium and let them know your availability. All volunteers must go through a number of training workshops that review species ID, how to sex an animal and protocols for responders. It is a great way of getting involved and better connected with the marine wildlife in your area.

Don't forget, NECWA has a community-sighting network for basking sharks and ocean sunfish. Our New England Basking Shark project asks community volunteers to report sightings of live or dead basking sharks and ocean sunfish observed offshore or stranded on a beach. NECWA is compiling a database on these amazing but not well understood pelagic fish. So check out our NEBShark website (click here) and get involved. We need your eyes and your help.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dead Harbor Seal Pup on Manomet Beach and Examination by the Ecology Club at Northbrook Academy

The New England Aquarium's Marine Rescue Program called NECWA to see if Krill could check out a report of a dead baby seal on a Manomet beach. The Anderson's called in this sighting which is their second sighting of a dead seal on their beach in less than a month. But this is the time of year that young seal carcasses wash ashore for these young animals have a difficult first year and many don't survive.

The seal carcass was just below the high tide mark so Krill removed the carcass from the beach for fear that it would be washed away at the next high tide or taken away by scavengers like coyotes. NECWA has a marine mammal permit from the federal government that allows NECWA staff to remove marine mammal parts for research and educational opportunities. This appeared to be a harbor seal pup who was possibly attacked by coyotes or dogs (see puncture wounds on animal's head). Coyotes are one of the main predators for seals when they are on beaches, especially seal pups or juveniles.

Krill was scheduled to lead an Ecology Club later that afternoon for students at Northbrook Academy in Raynham, MA. So Krill headed west toward Raynham to see if her students would be interested in participating in the Level A examination of this carcass. Level A examinations involve the collection of external measurements and photographs of the carcass. The information collected from this seal pup will be provided to the New England Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Team as they will incorporate the information into their extensive database.

Students in the Ecology Club were excited to be part of this scientific activity and everyone helped out. Tyler and Jonah helped measure the animal while Mickaela, Emily, Bethany, Paloma, Maddy, Danny, Abby, Brendan and Emily took turns taking photographs and recording data. Measurements collected included the full length of the seal pup as well as its girth. Other measurements also recorded included flipper length and the number of teeth in both the upper and lower jaws.

Although not always a pleasant or preferred activity, the examination of carcasses provides useful and meaningful information that scientists use to determine cause of death and mortality rates for seals and other marine wildlife. Students in Northbrook's Academy Ecology Club had an incredible opportunity by being part of this process. And this hands-on experience will help them gain a better understanding and appreciation for the work that field biologists like Krill and other's do in our New England area.
Krill continues to be impressed with the level of excellence, interest and motivation displayed by Northbrook Academy students. The teachers and co-founders of Northbrook Academy, Paula Boyle and Paul Harrison, are the driving force behind this private school that is committed to excellence in learning and that encourages exploration and growth on an individual basis.
Way to go Northbrook Academy students and staff! This is what learning and life are all about.To learn more about Northbrook Academy, go to their website at

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Salt and Crystal Presentation at the Center School

On March 12th, Krill Carson was invited to visit Tammy Kelley's first grade classroom at the Center School in Mattapoisett, MA. Kelley and her students were finishing up a month-long unit on whales and were very interested in learning more about these amazing marine mammals that come to feed off our shores each spring, summer and fall. As the students shared their research with Krill and asked a number of questions, it was clear that this was an exceptional group of students who were really interested and fascinated with whales. Much credit goes to their teacher Tammy for she is one of those amazing teachers who really gets her students involved in meaningful and exciting learning projects.

After a quick arts & craft activity, Tammy's students got a chance to look at a number of neat whale artifacts including baleen, whale bones, dolphin teeth and food items. Students enjoyed being able to hold and examine items and objects that they had read about, but never expected to actually see or touch.

Then it was time to get up and get moving! Everyone had fun and got red in the face as they pretended to be a whale coming up to the surface to breathe. Students learned how whales breathe using their nostrils called blowholes that are found on the top of their head. The students had fun spouting like whales as they rose up and down to simulate the movements of a whale as it rises to the surface to breathe.

Next, it was time for everyone to settle down on the rug and enjoy a PowerPoint presentation on whales that included photos of whales taken by Krill who also works as a naturalist for Capt. John Boats out of Plymouth, MA (

Also included in this presentation were digital videos provided by the Whale Video Company (, the company that produces the wonderful DVD's that are included in NECWA's deluxe adoption packages.

During the presentation, students learned about Salt, the most famous humpback whale in the world! Salt is a female humpback that was first seen in 1976 and who comes to feed off Cape Cod each season.

After the presentation, Tammy's students helped Krill inflate a fabric model of Salt's first known calf named Crystal. Crystal is a male humpback whale who was born in 1980. NECWA's inflatable model is 25 feet long which is Crystal's length on his first birthday. Everyone had fun singing Happy Birthday to Crystal and were amazed at how big a one-year old humpback calf really is. Tammy's students also learned that the real Crystal is still alive and like Salt, is still seen feeding in the waters of Massachusetts Bay.

Tammy and her students raised enough money to adopt a humpback whale through NECWA's adoption project. NECWA will be sending them a classroom adoption certificate and a number of educational materials including NECWA's Fun Fact Sheets on humpback whales.

And this Friday, Tammy and her students will be hosting Underwater Adventure! This is where the kids invite their parents and the school administration to visit their classroom, look at their whale artwork and listen as the kids present the findings of their whale research.

A fun and educational time was had by one and all. Hard to say who enjoyed the morning more, the kids or Krill! Krill was impressed with these young learners and their amazing teacher Tammy Kelley. For Krill, it was such a treat to spend time with kids who really know their whale biology and who are really curious about whales and other marine wildlife. And this classroom intends to take it one step further. Not only do they do their part by recycling in the classroom, they want to continue to find ways at school and at home that will help protect these endangered marine mammals who also call this planet their home.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Seal Carcass on Manomet beach Sunday, March 7. 2010

NECWA intern Nick Schromburg and staff member Krill Carson, were called by the New England Aquarium Marine Rescue Team to check out a possible seal carcass that had been reported by a family in Manomet. It was a beautiful Sunday morning as Nick and Krill headed down to the beach in search of this animal. The tide was low and many harbor seals were hauled out on the rocks just off the shoreline. These seals looked big and fat a sign that they are feeding well in our waters offshore.

It wasn't long before Nick and Krill found a small seal carcass located just above the high tide line. By the size of the carcass and the color of the fur, it was clear that this was a very young seal that had been born this spring. Because the head was missing (probably due to scavengers like coyotes) a positive ID was not possible. But given the time of year and the features of the carcass (such as the white coat of long fur) our best guess is that this was probably a gray seal pup that had recently been weaned by its mom. The first year of any seal's life is very difficult and this results in a high mortality rate for these beautiful and amazing marine mammals.

Nick worked with Krill to document the carcass by collecting location information, photographs and by conducting an external exam. On the way back to the car, Nick and Krill spent time picking up various items of trash that was littered on the beach. The best find of the day was a lawn mower which Nick was able to drag back to the car. They were able to document at least 8 broken lobster traps and hundreds of yards of fishing line tangled together in a confused manner. Unfortunately, the large size and weight of these objects made it impossible for Krill and Nick to remove them from the beach area.

But taking a few seconds to pick up fishing line and plastic items like bottles and jugs is a simple way that we can help make the marine environment cleaner for seals and for other marine wildlife. NECWA will be sponsoring a number of beach clean-ups this season and we hope you will be able to attend. Annual beach clean-ups help removed thousands of pounds of trash from our beaches each year. And since much of this trash can refloat on a high tide, it permanently removes this material from the marine environment.

Monday, March 1, 2010


On Saturday, February 27th, NECWA accepted an invitation to participate in the Nayatt Science Fair in Barrington, RI. Krill Carson, Ann Cook, Val Galinas, and Val’s husband Mark and daughter Becky all manned the NECWA presentation table.

NECWA offered the children some fun things to do including demonstrations, and lessons based on the bones and teeth that were on display. Ann manned this activity and had little trouble keeping the imagination of the kids as she talked about the baleen, prey items and bones on display.

Also a great hit were Val’s fabulous origami whale animals. Becky helped out with this activity and it was great fun to see how creative kids can be when decorating their origami whales. To sneak some science into this activity, we talked about the pectoral fin and flukes as well as the blowhole and the spout (when we helped the kids add their fluff to the top of the head to simulate a whale spout).

Another fun activity was the blubber glove demonstration where kids put their hands in a cold bucket of ice water. First they dip a finger into the bucket to see who cold the ocean can be. Then they put their hand in a blubber glove (really just vegetable oils sandwiched between 2 plastic bags) and then dip into the cold water. This helps them understand how blubber helps to keep marine mammals like whales and seals toasty warm in a very cold and sometimes inhospitable environment.

The Nayatt School houses grades K through 3, and the children were interested and excited to learn more about marine mammals and other ocean species. It was very rewarding for the NECWA volunteers to meet so many kids with so much enthusiasm for Marine Biology! A fun time was had by one and all, especially by the NECWA staff!

Common dolphin necropsy at WHOI laboratory

This Sunday, NECWA staff Krill Carson and intern Leah Horeanopolous participated in a necropsy or autopsy of a common dolphin at the WHOI laboaratory. Dr. Greg Early oversaw the necropsy of this young male that stranded in Wellfleet Harbor the day before. The IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue team has been responding to a number of common dolphin strandings in the Wellfleet area over the past few days. They have successfully rescued quite a few individuals, but a number of dolphins came ashore dead or had to be euthanized for humane reasons.

Leah was able to participate in this necropsy and took the role of lead photographer. Leah's job was to photograph important external and internal features of this individual. These photographs would coordinate with the tissue samples and the written information that was also collected.

Leah also had the opportunity to take up the scalpel and help cut during the necropsy. Leah cut open the stomachs (4-chambered in dolphins) and the intestines looking for the presence of food and internal parasites. She also worked to remove a number of teeth from this individual which will be used for age analysis.

It is always difficult to have to necropsy such a beautiful and majestic animal. But these opportunities can provide valuable information on the health of the individual and the population. And results from necropsies can help determine the cause of death. These activities also provide an amazing opportunity for our interns like Leah who are working toward their degrees in Biology with a Marine Biology emphasis. And working side-by-side with professionals in the field, like Dr. Greg Early, provides an incredible opportunity for these scientists in training.