On Friday, August 12, the National Aquarium and Oceana released three endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into the Chesapeake Bay at Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland. 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 ridley’s are the most endangered and smallest of all sea turtle species, making them particularly vulnerable to severe changes in water temperature. These individuals 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, Oceana, Prancer and Vixen, were released beachside as dozens of beach goers gathered to bid them farewell.
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.
Through the generous support of Oceana, the largest international organization working solely to protect the world’s oceans, one of the turtles was outfitted with a small satellite transmitter that will track its location and speed for several months. Satellite tags help researchers learn more about sea turtle migration and travel patterns. The public is invited to follow the turtles’ progress by viewing a satellite map of its travels at the Aquarium’s website, http://www.aqua.org/oceanhealth_oceana.html.
"This year we successfully rehabilitated a total of 12 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which was a huge undertaking for our program,” commented Jennifer Dittmar, stranding coordinator for the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program. “The expenses associated with their feeding and medical care left us with very little resources for tracking devices. Thanks to the generous support of Oceana we are able to track one of these turtles, and that is extremely important for this endangered species.”
The National Aquarium and Oceana have similar goals; to protect and conserve sea turtle populations for future generations. Together they are helping to educate the public about Oceana’s campaign to Save Sea Turtles, which is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations worldwide. Specifically, the campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles on land and in the water.
“Oceana is happy to support the National Aquarium’s ongoing efforts to rehabilitate injured sea turtles,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director and federal policy director at Oceana. “As human threats continue to decimate sea turtle populations, it is more important than ever for individuals to experience the wonders of sea turtles firsthand. The release and tracking of these sea turtles encourages the public to get involved in sea turtle conservation.”
These turtles were the 94th, 95th, and 96th animals released by the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP). Formed in 1991 and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, MARP has responded to hundreds of strandings, including seals, dolphins and endangered sea turtles, and to sightings of manatees, dolphins and other marine mammals.