Thursday, December 3, 2009

A sea turtle in New England

Today we're having a guest blog by a Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle who's currently in care at the New England Aquarium where I spend my Wednesdays as a volunteer. I mentioned that I was planning to blog about sea turtles and he wanted to tell his story himself. So without further ado here's Dan.

Hi. I'm Dan, a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. I'm only a few years old and my life is off to a rocky start. Normally some of us Kemp's Ridleys come up to New England for the summers (lots of yummy crabs!) and migrate back south in the fall. This year I messed up and instead of going out into the Atlantic I stuck too close to shore and got stuck in Cape Cod Bay. It's a common mistake for us young turtles. I guess the older ones learn better how to get around this obstacle. All I know is that I was headed south and instead of finding warmer water I found land.

I was swimming around and around, trying to find my way South and it started getting colder and colder and next thing I knew I was too cold to swim anymore. I just floated there until a strong wind blew me onto the beach. Now I've been on a beach. Once. When I was born. Us male turtles don't ever go back onto a beach if we can help it. The females do, but only to lay eggs.

Along came a nice man from a place called Wellfleet Audubon. I'm not sure what that means but I heard him talking about how volunteers from there patrol the beaches for 6 - 8 weeks at this time of year looking for all of us young turtles who get caught in the Bay. I'm so glad they found me. I was really worried for a while there. Or as worried as you can get when your body temperature drops into the 50s!

You see, us sea turtles are exothermic. That means we depend on the warmth from the environment around us to keep us warm. So when it gets cold (like now) we get sluggish. On the positive side it does mean we can survive body temperatures almost down to freezing! I heard that one turtle last year had a body temperature in the mid-30s and survived to be released back into the wild this summer! Can you do that?

So I got loaded into a box and taken to the New England Aquarium. The nice people at this place have a whole group dedicated to helping us stranded sea turtles at this time of year (they help other stranded animals, too, like seals, porpoises, dolphins and even small whales). They hauled me out of my box and set me on a table and gave me a through physical exam. The next turtle over looked really bad, I thought he was dead and the vet couldn't find a heartbeat. They stuck a tube in his throat and forced him to breathe. I guess they knew something I didn't because later that afternoon he started to move around and they disconnected the ventilator and took the tube out.

After looking me over they found some algae on my shell but that was it. Since I was so cold but otherwise healthy they let me have a swim in fresh water. It was cold, too. After being stuck on the beach it felt good to move around, even if I wasn't warm yet.

That night I got to sleep in an incubator. Other turtles were in there, too. One had been too cold to avoid a boat and had some major shell damage but the vet thinks he can fix that. One sounds really funny when she breaths. She turned out to have pneumonia and is on medication.

They gradually warmed me back up and every day I got to swim. First in the kiddie pool but later I got to swim in the small tanks. These are only about 3 or 4 feet deep but it felt good to stretch my cold muscles.

Now that my body temperature is up to 75 degrees they're letting me swim in the big pool. I hear that when I'm able to swim for a couple of days without coming out of the water they'll start feeding me. Good. I'm starting to get hungry! Word among us turtles is that they fatten us up all winter and put us back out into the wild next summer. I'll be glad to stay indoors all winter but next year I'll be ready to go. And I won't make the same mistake next time I migrate! Thanks for listening to my story and thanks to everyone who volunteered their time and money to help get me back on track. My life depended on you all.

Diana here again. Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are endangered but their numbers have been rising in recent years (thanks to dedicated people who have helped change human behavior with regards to sea turtles). The New England Aquarium is just one of many facilities that helps turtles stranded in too cold water.

We have attached radio tags to several released animals and it looks like the turtles do quite well after release. We also microchip them. The females get microchiped and scanned on the nesting beaches as a way to monitor the population size. Since we can't tell genders when they as young as the ones that end up in rehabilitation we microchip them all. This year one of the earliest turtles rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium came ashore at a nesting beach to lay eggs. She was rehabilitated in 1999. You go, girl!

1 comment:

  1. Good Morning Diana: Dan is quie a good story teller. Great Post. Mother Nature must be pleased to have people like you and places like the New England Aquarium assisting her with things. Would you like to be a guest on my blog with this post?

    Enjoy your day, John