Over the past week, the New England Aquarium pulled off the dramatic rescue, rehabilitation and release of a 655-pound, 7-foot leatherback sea turtle which had stranded on Cape Cod (as seen in the video above). The prehistoric-looking reptile was found suffering from dehydration and shock with a significant portion of its left-front flipper missing, an injury the Aquarium said was consistent with entanglement in fishing gear, a sadly common occurrence with these severely threatened animals.
Leatherbacks are long-distance swimmers, using their giant paddle-like flippers to propel them over vast distances. This turtle from the Western Atlantic population travels all the way from the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean to the jellyfish-rich waters of New England each year, and may even swim as far north as Newfoundland. After a weekend being nursed back to health by aquarium staff, this beleaguered leatherback, which veterinarians estimated to be around 25 to 30 years old, was released off of Cape Cod on Sunday.
If the turtle survives, it will be a cheerful chapter in an increasingly desperate story about a species that has survived for a hundred million years but faces extinction in the coming decades. As many as 2,300 leatherbacks may have died at the hands of commercial fishing activities each year throughout the 1990s. Aside from entanglement in fishing gear, many turtles also face threats from poaching and countless die from ingesting plastic. Leatherbacks, whose throats are lined with backward-pointing spines to prevent swallowed jellyfish from escaping, are especially vulnerable to choking on plastic bags, which they mistake for their favorite prey.
But there is hope for the leatherback sea turtle. In 2007, Oceana petitioned the federal government to designate critical habitat for off the U.S. West Coast, where Pacific populations have plummeted by as much as 80% in recent decades. In response, earlier this year, The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of almost 42,000 square miles of protected ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered turtle. Turtles arrive in these areas each year after swimming as far as 6,000 miles across the open ocean from nests in Indonesia. This is the first permanent safe haven designated for leatherbacks in U.S. waters. The National Marine Fisheries Service has yet to designate similar critical habitat for loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans even though they are required by law to do so.
Help Oceana continue to fight for this incredible animal, the largest turtle and one of the largest living reptiles on Earth.
World Oceans Day was this past Friday, and as we mentioned in our last post, Oceana headed up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore to take part in their special celebration of the seas.
Divers enter the aquariums exhibits every day to feed the animals and clean the tanks, but on Friday there was a very special dive. National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli joined Oceanaâ€™s very first Ocean Hero, John Halas, for excursions into the Atlantic coral reef and Wings on the Water exhibits.
The Atlantic coral reef exhibit was John Halasâ€™ first aquarium dive, but far from his first experience with that ecosystem. He earned the Ocean Hero award in 2009 for his more than 30 years of working to protect coral reef systems in Florida. He retired earlier this year, but has been busy traveling to places like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to help install environmentally friendly buouy systems.
In Wings on the Water, John Halas got to meet Calypso, the friendly three-flippered sea turtle that lives in the Aquarium. You can check out video from both dives and interviews with John Racanelli and John Halas over at the Baltimore Sun.
Do you know someone who does great things for the oceans like John? Nominations for our 2012 Ocean Heroes Award are open now and weâ€™re searching for people of all ages and backgrounds who are working hard to protect the worldâ€™s oceans. Donâ€™t forget to get your nominations in by June 20th!
Many thanks to the National Aquarium for hosting us and doing such great work to protect the worldâ€™s oceans.
Kempâ€™s ridley sea turtles, the smallest species of sea turtle, participate in one of the most intriguing nesting rituals, called arribadas, meaning â€śarrivalsâ€ť in Spanish. During an arribada, huge numbers of female Kempâ€™s ridleys waddle up beaches simultaneously to lay their eggs.
These already threatened sea turtles are facing further obstacles from the Gulf oil spill. If you havenâ€™t already done so, please sign the petition to stop offshore drilling to help protect these turtles and other crucial wildlife in the future.