HELPS RETURN 14 SEA TURTLES TO THE WILD
Sept. 1, 2006 — They hadn't been on the beach since last fall, and that trip was lousy because at the time everyone was very, very sick. It only took a few minutes for a group of 14, now robust, sea turtles to catch the scent of salt and forgive everything. Noses up, they pulled themselves the few yards from the rack line on Cape Cod's Dowses Beach into the surf. Five of the turtles were fitted with tags that will allow their location to be tracked by satellite for as long as the tags remain operational, usually about one year. (Click NOAA image for larger view of turtle handlers lined up for release of Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Dr. Bridget Dunnigan, NOAA Woods Hole Science Aquarium veterinarian (in the blue cap), holds Marshmallow, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle fitted with a satellite tag. Marshmallow recuperated from cold-stun stranding at the NOAA Woods Hole Science Aquarium under the care of Dunnigan. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"It was a fine sight," said Dr. Bridget Dunnigan, NOAA Fisheries Service veterinarian, who has cared for four of the turtles since the winter and assisted with the release. Dunnigan works at the NOAA Woods Hole Science Aquarium, where the turtles have been on display. "Some of these guys were in pretty rough shape when they were first rescued. It's been a long haul, but this is the best possible outcome," she said.
The event last week was organized by the New England Aquarium, which has responsibility for the care of stranded sea turtles in New England and manages their re-release to the wild. The region's Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network is a federal program operated under the joint authorities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service. (Click NOAA image for larger view of 13 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles racing for the waters of Nantucket Sound on August 24, 2006, after their release onto Dowses Beach on Cape Cod. The turtles had been recovering from hypothermia since the late fall and winter of 2005. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The turtles are from populations listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Thirteen released were Kemp's ridleys, and one was a loggerhead. All were initially rescued between October and December 2005 by volunteers with the Mass Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay, which is authorized to organize beach rescues and retrievals for stranded sea turtles on Cape Cod.
Late each fall, juvenile sea turtles feed in Cape Cod Bay. Turtles are cold-blooded, so their bodies assume the temperature of the water around them. If there is a sudden weather or oceanographic event that quickly lowers water temperature, or if they fail to migrate south in a timely way, these turtles become hypothermic and many strand on the bay side of Cape Cod. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA volunteer Andy Roberts assisting with release of loggerhead sea turtle Holly into Nantucket Sound. Andy cared for Holly at the NOAA Woods Hole Science Aquarium during the turtle's recuperation from cold-stun stranding. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The Mass Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay seeks out and rescues these turtles along the beach and transports them to the New England Aquarium, where critical care is provided. The turtles are slowly warmed and treated for complications of hypothermia, including pneumonia and bone and joint problems. As they stabilize and need less critical care, some of the turtles are transferred to other facilities for long-term care, so hospital space can be freed for other sick animals that come into the New England Aquarium through the stranding network.
The turtles were kept in care until now to ensure that the waters off Cape Cod were warm enough for them to be returned. Four of the turtles released, including the loggerhead, received long-term care at the NOAA Woods Hole Science Aquarium. Two of these, Marshmallow (a Kemp's ridley) and Holly (a loggerhead) were satellite tagged. Seven of the turtles received similar care at the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Mass. One of these, Smarty, also was satellite tagged. The other four were cared for at the New England Aquarium. Two of these, Cyano and Miagi, were satellite tagged.
Northeast stranding network partners do a great job caring for cold-stunned
sea turtles. It's exciting to be able to release these animals together
with these other groups," says Sara McNulty of the NOAA Fisheries
Service's Northeast Protected Resources Division. McNulty oversees the
region's Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, which authorizes
such events. (Click NOAA image for larger view of loggerhead
turtle Holly, with satellite tracking device, about to enter the waters
of Nantucket Sounds onto Dowses Beach on Cape Cod. Click
here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The satellite tags were attached to the turtles' shells, just behind their necks. The tags are small, and weigh just about a tenth of a pound. Physical identification tags also are placed on the turtles' flippers and just under their skin. The current locations of many turtles with satellite tags, including these, can be tracked online.
The rescue and rehabilitation of these turtles is prompted in part by their endangered or threatened status. Kemp's ridley sea turtles are thought to be the world's most endangered sea turtle species, with only a few thousand wild breeding females known to exist. Kemp's ridleys also are the smallest sea turtles, with adults weighing up to 100 pounds and reaching about 2 feet in length. Their range includes the Gulf coasts of Mexico and the U.S., and the Atlantic coast of North America.
Loggerhead sea turtles are threatened throughout their range in the temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are named for their large heads. Adult loggerheads weigh about 250 pounds, span about 3 feet in length and are believed to be the largest of the hard-shelled sea turtles.
In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
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