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.
More than 100 dolphins have beached themselves in Cape Cod, Massachusetts this winter, and no one knows why.
In the northeastern United States, it’s normal for about 230 animals to beach themselves over the course of a year. But this year, 129 common dolphins have been found on Cape Cod beaches in the past month.
Examinations of the dolphins haven’t found any sign of illness or injury, adding to the mystery. Beaching or “stranding” happens when an animal gets trapped in shallow water and can’t swim back out to the ocean. This can be caused by disorientation from an unfamiliar landscape, loud noises, illness, or more. Because dolphins form strong bonds, they may follow each other and become stranded in groups.
One factor in Cape Cod might be an unseasonably warm winter, which kept the harbor free from ice and open to wandering dolphins. Combined with the geography of the Cape Cod harbor area—much shallower and confined than the open ocean—and dolphins’ habits of sticking close to their family members, these dolphins could easily find themselves in trouble.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working to save the stranded dolphins and discover the cause of the mass stranding. To date they have been able to release 37 of the stranded dolphins back into the water.
Mass strandings are mysterious events. We may never know the cause, but we hope it comes to an end soon.
Last Friday the National Aquarium and Oceana released three endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into the Chesapeake Bay at Maryland's Point Lookout State Park. The turtles came to the National Aquarium this winter from the New England Aquarium, after they were found stranded along Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered and smallest of all sea turtle species, making them particularly vulnerable to severe changes in water temperature. These turtles suffered from cold stunning - the sea turtle equivalent of hypothermia. After months of long-term rehabilitation by the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), the turtles, named Oceana, Prancer and Vixen, were released back into the wild.
Sea turtles commonly feed on an assortment of jellies and invertebrates in the Chesapeake Bay during warm summer months, which is why Aquarium officials chose this date and location for the release. These turtles are expected to stay in the mid-Atlantic region or head north for the remainder of the summer, before eventually heading south again in the fall.
Oceana the sea turtle sported a small satellite transmitter that will track its location and speed for several months, helping researchers learn more about sea turtle migration and travel patterns. You can follow Oceana’s (and the other two turtles’) progress at the Aquarium’s website. Check out more photos from the release on Flickr!