Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 27, 2010 - Cold-stunned Sea Turtles at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

After the morning's Seal & Seabird cruise, Krill and Nick stopped by the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to see Bob Prescott about a report of a dead ocean sunfish that washed ashore at Linell Landing. When they arrived, they found Bob in the Nature Center's wet lab getting 5 live Kemp ridley sea turtles ready for transport to a rehab facility in Quincy. These endangered sea turtles had recently cold-stunned and washed ashore on various Cape beaches over the Thanksgiving holiday.

To learn more, please read the article at the end of this post that was just posted today on Cape Cod Times online. This article provides an overview of the sea turtle rescues this season.

Bob Prescott is the Director of MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and a long-time friend and supporter of NECWA. Bob has been instrumental in helping Krill with ocean sunfish necropsies and internal examinations. Not only is Bob extremely knowledgeable about many marine animals, but he truly enjoys learning about unusual species like Mola mola. As Bob was carefully packing each young sea turtle in its own banana box, he explained how these sea turtles had come ashore that night for they were cold-stunned due to the dropping water temperatures.

Bob also spent time talking with and upating visitors to the Nature Center who noticed the sea turtles in their banana boxes in the entranceway of the facility. Bob explained how it was important to keep the body temperature of these sea turtles cool until they reach their final destination, the New England Aquarium rehabilitation facility in Quincy, MA.

Soon the volunteer driver arrived at the Nature Center and she discussed with Bob the directions for the new rehab facility. As soon as all the paperwork was completed, it was time to load the 5 Kemp ridley’s sea turtles into the volunteer’s Prius. Nick and Krill helped carry the banana boxes containing their precious cargo to the parking lot as Bob expertly stacked the boxes in the back seat.

As Bob, Krill and Nick waved goodbye, they wished the sea turtles a safe journey and a quick recovery. Given the endangered status of this species, each individual counts. And even though the majority of sea turtles that strand along our shores are juveniles, they represent the future hope for this rare species.

If you live on Cape Cod and are interested in walking beaches to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles, please call the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Center. You will need to attend a brief workshop where you will learn the correct procedures and protocols used during sea turtle rescue efforts. Not only will you get lots of great exercise when walking beaches in search of sea turtles, but you will be helping out an endangered species that is in great need.

We hope you will visit the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in the future months. The Nature Center is fabulous as are the trails that lead you right down to the waters of Cape Cod Bay. The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offers many different programs for adults and children and they conduct a number of important research programs on Cape Cod.

Becoming a member of MA Audubon will help Bob and his staff continue to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles and will support the critically important work they do for the benefit of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife in the New England area. Don’t forget, an Audubon membership makes you eligible for discounts on their programs and public activities.

Turtles strand in high numbers on Cape


Even turtle experts are stunned at the recent pace of cold-stunned turtle season on Cape Cod.

From Thursday through midday Monday, 85 sea turtles in trouble were plucked from area beaches.

"This certainly could be a record stranding year," said Robert Prescott, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. "They're being found anywhere from Sandy Neck in Barnstable all the way up to Ryder Beach in Truro."

Altogether this season, 107 turtles have been found alive and 26 found dead. Most of the survivors have been sent for treatment to a New England Aquarium rehabilitation facility in Quincy. Kemp's ridley turtles make up the vast majority of the Cape's stunned turtle population.

In 1999, 278 turtles were brought to the Audubon sanctuary, the current record.

The sanctuary is seeking donations of towels and cardboard boxes to help transport the chilled reptiles to rehab.

Experts say if you see a cold-stunned turtle, move it above the high-tide line. Cover it with eelgrass or seaweed to reduce the effect of the wind. Mark the spot with beach debris in a way that will allow it to be found again. Call the Mass Audubon's sea turtle hot line at 508-349-2615, ext. 104, and leave the exact location of the turtle. Then, let the turtle professionals do their thing.

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Seal & Seabird Cruise with MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay on November 27th, 2010

Today NECWA staff and interns (Krill and her family along with Nick and Caitlyn) enjoyed a trip aboard the Naviator to view the seabirds, sea ducks and seals in Wellfleet Harbor. As we boarded the boat, we said hello to our good friend Capt. Ricky Merrill, owner and operator of the Naviator.

The Naviator is a party boat that fishes out of Wellfleet Harbor for much of the season. Capt. Ricky also collaborates with MA Audubon on a number of nature excursions including their summer Marine Wildlife Cruises and their fall Seabird & Seal Cruises.

On the way out to Billingsgate Shoal, our MA Audubon naturalist, Dennis Murley, pointed out the different seabirds and sea ducks that were in Wellfleet Harbor. Dennis is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists who really understand the unique coastal marine wildlife in the area. Even though we have joined Dennis for many of these types of excursions, we always learn so much and have a great time in the process.

As we traveled through the harbor, we chatted with old friends and met new friends, young and old. The youngest passenger onboard was a 3 year old boy who was clearly fascinated with the whole experience. There were a number of other children onboard including a few teenagers. Great to see so many people of all ages "getting out and about on a boat in their boots!"

Caitlyn and Nick had fun trying to identify the different seabirds, sea ducks and gulls in the harbor. Even though they both worked as Whale Watch naturalists this summer for Captain John Boats, they didn't get alot of time to focus on the seabirds offshore. And this trip gave them a feel for how different each excursion offshore can be.

Feeding in Wellfleet Harbor were Northern Gannets who were plunge diving from heights of over 30 feet. We also saw numerous small groups of Razorbills and Dovekies, both cold waters birds that are found in Cape Cod Bay in early spring and late fall. There were many sightings of sea ducks including Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders, White-winged Scoters and Surf Scoters. It was clear to see that Wellfleet Harbor was teaming with life even in these cold wintery conditions.

As we slowly approached the seals that were hauled out on Billingsgate Shoal, we marveled at their ability to withstand such cold extremes, not just above the water's surface, but also below. Laying on this temporary beach were over 100 Gray Seals and Harbor Seals. Gray Seals are easy to identify by their large size and distinctive Romanesque nose.

Harbor Seals are much smaller in size and have more of a rounded head with an upturned nose. Like the Gray Seals, each Harbor Seal possess a unique pattern of spots on a coat that can be either light or dark in color. The overall color of these seals can vary from gray, to brown to red, but most individuals have a lighter belly area.

It was great to have such an up-close and personal view of these amazing marine mammals. And as we drifted alongside the seals, we could hear many of their vocalizations to one another. As a chorus, the seals vocalizations sounded like a soft humming sound that would rise and fall in pitch. We were entranced by their beauty and we sad when told it was time to head back to the dock.

We hope you will join MA Audubon at Wellfleet Bay and Capt. Ricky Merrill for one of their Seal & Seabird cruises next fall. Each cruise is only 1.5 hours long and they are a great way of getting out in nature and connecting with the Cape's wildlife.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 11, 2010 - Striped Dolphin Necropsy at WHOI

Striped Dolphin Necropsy at the Marine Mammal Research Facility

This morning, NECWA staff members Krill Carson and Dominica Webster as well as NECWA intern Tammy Silva headed down to the Marine Mammal Research Facility in Woods Hole to help with the necropsy of a striped dolphin. This state-of-the-art facility is part of the Marine Mammal Center at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Misty Niemeyer, staff member of IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Program (IFAW MMRR). would be leading the necropsy and overseeing the collection of all data and tissue samples.

Strict protocols must be followed to ensure the safety of all personnel involved with any marine mammal examination and necropsy. Misty went over all the necessary procedures and explained the reason for each protocol or activity. One protocol requires that all participants wear safety googles and a face mask. This is to protect all personnel from the accidental spraying of marine mammal blood fluids as the carcass is dissected.

Before the striped dolphin could be examined, Scott conducted a CT scan on the entire body of the animal. Then Scott brought the dolphin back to the lab and weighed the animal with Misty's help. The next step was to photo-document markings or unusual features on the animal's body and this involved the collection of a series of photographs from snout to fluke. Linda, an IFAW volunteer who was also assisting with the necropsy, collected photographs over the course of the procedure. Kate, another IFAW volunteer, was in charge of archiving tissue and organ samples.

(markings on the skin of the striped dolphin)

Because of her experience with computers and databases, Dominica was asked to once again assume the role of IT personnel. As tissues and organs were examined, measured and collected, Dominica recorded relevant information in the computer's database.

Krill helped with the necropsy itself by dissecting the dolphin when needed. She also took photographs to document aspects of the necrospy and the animal itself. This was Tammy's first necrospy at WHOI and she was asked to help with the collection and labeling of tissue and organ samples. Tammy did a great job, but the next time she participates in a necropsy, she has decided not to wear white!

After all the work was completed, the team worked together to clean all the dissection tools and knives as well as all the larger equipment that was used during the procedure. And every piece of equipment must be disinfected to ensure that everything is super clean and pathogen free.

Everyone was thoroughly tired by the end of the necropsy which lasted into the early afternoon. It is true that necropsies are difficult to deal with since they involve the death of a beautiful marine mammal. But these feelings are offset by the fact that the information gathered from these types of activities will help biologists determine many important questions about the biology and ecology of this species. And for this individual, Misty and the other researchers involved may be able to determine the cause of death for this striped dolphin.