Saturday, August 30, 2008

Learn about turtle reintroduction

There will be a special presentation on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. about establishing a population of Blanding's turtles at Assabet River NWR.

Come learn about how the reintroduction of Blanding's turtles to Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge has progressed so far, what’s been learned, what can still be learned and how experiences so far will impact work in the coming year. Dr. Kurt Buhlmann and Dr. Tracey Tuberville will discuss turtle reintroductions, including the recent work on the reintroduction of Blanding's to Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is in the towns of Maynard, Stow, Sudbury and Hudson.

The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Great Meadows NWR Headquarters on Weir Hill Road in Sudbury. For more information, contact or 978 443-4661 extension 34 or check the Friends of Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge website .

This meeting is sponsored by the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of Assabet River NWR.

Source: Wicked Local

Friday, August 29, 2008

Boaters, beware! Steer clear of booming -- and rare -- leatherback turtles

A New England Aquarium expert tended to a stranded leatherback that washed up on Nauset Beach in Orleans in 2005.

Turtle influx prompts advisory

Turtle influx prompts advisory

Boaters warned of risks posed to endangered reptile

Federal officials are cautioning boaters in the waters off Massachusetts to keep a sharp lookout, because leatherback turtles, among the world's largest reptiles, have arrived in record numbers.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued the warning in an attempt to protect the endangered animals, which can grow to be 6 1/2 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.

The turtles have been spotted swimming in Nantucket and Vineyard sounds.

Reports of dead, stranded, or injured turtles are also setting records.

"It is probably the second-busiest year in the 20 to 30 years that I have been watching the leatherback," said Bob Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

He said people are reporting seeing 10 to 12 of the endangered animals at one time, which is "unheard-of in Massachusetts."

The reason for the leatherback explosion is an increase in the jellyfish population, said Prescott.

The leatherback migrates through Massachusetts waters each year, but is staying longer this year because there are more jellyfish on which to feed.

Prescott said the reptiles are mostly concentrated to the south of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, which means they are out of major shipping lanes, but they have been sighted elsewhere, as well, and it is important for boaters to be careful.

The turtles can be killed when they are struck by a boat's propellers or caught in fishing lines.

The Coast Guard has been broadcasting regular reminders to boaters asking them to use caution and reduce speeds in areas where turtles might be floating.

"It is an interesting animal to see," said Prescott. "It is prime time to see them, and it is a fun activity to go slow and see them."

According to NOAA, there are several things boaters should remember when cruising near the turtles.

They should give turtles space, put the engine in neutral once a turtle is spotted, and let it pass.

Officials also urged people to watch their lines and bait at all times to avoid entanglement, wear polarized sunglasses so it is easier to see the creatures in the water, and use caution when approaching an area with large numbers of jellyfish.

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big year for baby diamondbacks on Cape Cod

GateHouse News Service
Posted Aug 28, 2008 @ 02:14 PM


Naturalists at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary are welcoming the arrival of hundreds of baby diamondback terrapins, who have begun poking their wee heads out of their eggshells in nests scattered across Wellfleet and Eastham.

As many as 1,800 turtles or more could emerge on the Outer Cape by the end of the season, excellent news for a species listed as “threatened” in Massachusetts. In fact, sanctuary director Bob Prescott thinks this year’s turtle turnout could take the cake.

“We could exceed our record year this year,” he said, chalking the healthy numbers up to good weather conditions and persistent conservation efforts. There are about 200 nests altogether, he estimated. Some are located on the sanctuary grounds, some at Lieutenant Island and Indian Neck, and some in parts of Eastham. There’s a lone nest in Orleans.

Diamondback terrapins, named for the diamond-like facets on the ridges of their shells, live in salt marshes and their adjacent habitats and can be found in coastal locations from Texas to Wellfleet, which represents the northernmost extremity of their breeding range. They are under pressure from shoreline development, climate change and other coastal afflictions, and the sanctuary is working hard to make sure their population holds steady.

In the early summer, sanctuary staff go out into the field and place wire enclosures around the terrapin nests they find to protect the eggs from predators like skunks and raccoons. In late summer, when the eggs are getting close to hatch-time, they keep a close eye on them, moving nests that are in danger of being infested by red ants and maggots into the sanctuary’s wet lab, where the turtles can hatch in safety. (They’re later released.)

Or they might “escort” the nests from their upland locations down to the salt marsh, eliminating a leg of the journey the young turtles have to make after they’ve emerged, said Don “The Turtleman” Lewis, researcher and champion of the diamondback. It’s that first dash to the marsh that can be the most risky for the inch-big hatchlings, handy snack food for wild animals of all sorts.

Both Prescott and Lewis say there’s a direct relationship between the abundance of baby terrapins we’re seeing and the conservation effort.

“What we’re seeing is the dividends from all the hard work we’ve been doing for the last decade,” said Lewis, noting that the aggressive effort to protect the hatchlings got underway in 2000. The turtles take about seven or eight years to reach sexual maturity, so the big batches of eggs that have been produced over the last two years are evidence that enough of the hatchlings born in 2000 survived to make a difference.

In 2007, according to Prescott, about 1,800 terrapins were born — a significant swing up from the mere 200 born in a previous year.

More could be done to help the terrapins. The results of a turtle-tagging study conducted in partnership with the sanctuary by Barbara Brennessel, a professor at Wheaton College, show that the turtle habitat in need of protection might not necessarily be restricted to salt marshes.

“In reality, the hatchlings sort of amble around, and some go into the salt marsh but some go into the upland,” where they take cover under the leaf litter, Prescott said. For a long time researchers have thought that the turtles head straight for the salt marsh after hatching.

That heightens the importance of preserving the buffer zones around salt marshes, areas which are not guarded by local conservation commissions as carefully as the wetlands themselves.

“In reality, we need to be more protective of wooded habitats around salt marshes,” said Prescott. “It is vitally important that natural buffer zones be left intact.”

Provincetown Banner

Source: The Daily News Tribune

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

3 Kemp's Ridley Turtles released in Va.

CAPE CHARLES, Va., Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Three juvenile Kemp's Ridley Turtles were freed Tuesday morning after a month of recuperation at the Virginia Aquarium.

The turtles, Snap, Crackle and Pop, swam quickly into Chesapeake Bay when members of the aquarium stranding response team lowered them into the water and let them go about 50 feet from shore, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

"OK, guys! They're ready to go home," Wendy Walton, a veterinarian technician, cried to onlookers who had waded into the water to watch the release. "They've had a long trip."

The turtles were found earlier this summer in an intake canal at a nuclear power plant in New Jersey. They were transferred to Virginia from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.

The aquarium decided to release the turtles at Cape Charles, a town on the bay, after another sea turtle was successfully released there.

Kemp's Ridleys Turtles, the rarest sea turtle and classified as an endangered species, nest in the Gulf of Mexico. They wander as far north as Massachusetts and are one of the sea turtles most often seen in Virginia waters.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oak Bluffs Contingent Assists in Sea Rescue of Leatherback


Swimming strongly, turtle gave rescuers a run for the money.
Pictures courtesy David Grunden.
A 1,500 pound, eight-foot long male leatherback turtle that had become entangled in fishing gear was rescued in Nantucket Sound on Friday by a group that included the Oak Bluffs harbor master and shellfish constable.

“I couldn’t believe the size of that thing. That is a first for me,” said harbor master Todd Alexander.

The call for help first came to town shellfish constable David Grunden, who is a member of the region’s sea turtle disentanglement group. Mr. Grunden said the call came in at noon via the Coast Guard that the sailboat Way to Go had spotted the troubled turtle in the Sound, swimming with what looked like a lobster pot or conch buoy attached. The sighting was about nine miles east of the Oak Bluffs harbor, a few miles west of the Cape Pogue lighthouse.

Mr. Grunden, his wife Sharry and Roger Williams, a veterinarian, were taken to the scene by the harbor master in his 25-foot powerboat.

The trip took about 30 minutes, Mr. Grunden said. He said locating the turtle was made easier by the fact that the sailboat remained on scene, its sails luffing.

When they pulled alongside the ailing turtle, Mr. Grunden said a fishing boat from Woods Hole named the Rolling Stone arrived.

Onboard was Kara Dodge, a researcher with the Large Pelagics Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She was hoping not only to release the animal but also to attach a transmitter to it.

Mr. Grunden said the turtle seemed feisty, strong and free enough to tow what was apparently a fish pot attached to the buoy. “The line was wrapped around its left flipper. He had no problem dragging what was on the bottom,” Mr. Grunden said.

Entangled with fishing gear, turtle is freed.
The Vineyard team watched as the Rolling Stone came alongside the turtle and disentangled it from the gear.

Brian Sharp of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies said that while Ms. Dodge had hoped to attach a satellite transmitter to the turtle before it was released, the turtle freed itself too quickly.

Mr. Alexander, who watched the rescue operation, said at one point it looked like the big turtle was going to pull the two people out of the boat into the water. “At one point we were calling it an Oak Bluffs sleigh ride,” he said.

He speculated that the sea turtle had not been entangled long. They observed other fish pots floating in the area.

Mr. Sharp, who coordinates all sea turtle entanglements in this region, said the incident is common for this time of year. He praised the sailboat owners for not only making the call but staying nearby in case they were needed for assistance.

“We encourage boat owners to call us directly at the Marine Animal Entanglement Hotline 1-800-900-3622 or to contact the Coast Guard,” Mr. Sharp said. “We have a trained network of local, state and federal responders throughout Massachusetts. We have trained 85 to 90 people in this.”

He said Ms. Dodge has been tagging a number of free swimming sea turtles in area waters this summer. Had she tagged this turtle, it would have been the first this summer of an entangled sea turtle.

“In a typical year we get from 22 to 25 reports of animal entanglements [in state waters],” Mr. Sharp said, adding: “Sea turtles cover the entire Atlantic Ocean. They predominantly feed on jellyfish. When you see jellyfish, you usually see turtles. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle and it almost exclusively feeds on jellyfish.”

Mr. Sharp said his group has no data on the number of leatherback sea turtles that swim in Nantucket Sound or in waters around the Cape and Islands. He said there are estimates about how many turtles return to the Caribbean to lay eggs, but once the animals and the babies are at sea, populations are difficult to estimate.

Entanglement sightings are a critical part of sea turtle studies.

Mr. Sharp urged anyone who sees an entangled sea turtle to contact his group. And he cautioned against attempting a rescue and said anyone who sees an entangled turtle should stay 150 to 200 feet away. “Staying clear is not only safe for the sea turtle it is safe for the boat owner,” he said.

© 2008 Vineyard Gazette

Friday, August 1, 2008

Leatherbacks call Cape Cod home

GateHouse News Service
Posted Jul 31, 2008 @ 02:34 PM

Accidental tourists. That’s what people used to think leatherback sea turtles were. But they were wrong.

“They wanted to be here,” declared Kara Dodge, of the Large Pelagics Research Center of the University of New Hampshire.

What exactly they’re doing here and how they spend their time is the subject of Dodge’s Ph.D. research and she discussed it last week as part of the Wednesday lecture series at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Leatherbacks are not only the largest turtle in the world; they are warm-blooded, at least in part, due to a unique heat exchange system. The warmer arterial blood is blended together with colder blood returning from the animal’s surface before it reaches the heart, so the working core of the animal stays warmer.

“It can keep the body temperature up to 30 degrees higher than the surrounding environment,” Dodge noted. “Leatherbacks can grow to over 6 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. They have a high volume to surface ratio and lose heat to the environment slowly.”

They’re fat, which is a good thing.

“They have a blubber layer which is the reason they don’t get cold stunned. That is a heat-conserving adaptation. It is several inches thick, similar to a whale or a dolphin and helps the leatherback insulate itself,” Dodge said.

They don’t mind cold water nearly as much as other turtles and will swim far north of Nova Scotia and dive to frigid depths.

“They can dive to a depth of 4,200 feet, and it’s pretty cold at 4,200 feet,” Dodge noted. “Those are depths that are reached only by sperm whales and elephant seals.”

The other problem with deep dives is the water pressure, but leatherbacks don’t have a hard shell that can be crushed.

“Leatherbacks have a vascularized boney lipid matrix; rows of interlocking bone embedded in a lipid matrix covered with a black skin that gives leatherbacks their name,” Dodge said.

They also have a series of “soft spots” around the body that allow for further flexibility.

“Physiologically they are equipped for depth as well,” explained Dodge. “They are air breathers but are able to store oxygen in the blood and muscle to get around collapsing lungs at great depths.”

Most of their dives are within 650 feet of the sea surface, which is still pretty deep.

What they are doing on these dives is completely known but much of the time they are probably eating. And what does the largest turtle like to eat? Jellyfish.

“Giant leatherbacks subsist entirely on jellyfish. Two of their favorites are moon jellies and lion’s mane jellyfish, which are seasonally abundant here,” Dodge said. “Jellyfish are over 95 percent water and relatively nutrient poor so leatherbacks have to consume large quantities. They have to eat their own body weight each day.”

That’s a lot of jellyfish but then there are often a lot around, Especially in Nantucket Sound. The turtles have a beak with scissor-like fangs for gripping jellyfish and keratinized spines in their mouth and throat pointing downward to doom for jellyfish.

Dodge is tracking the turtles via battery-operated satellite-linked transmitters. She is also collecting oceanographic data (water temperatures, salinity and such) along with jellyfish densities to determine what the turtle is doing and why. Her three initially tagged turtles, all from Cape Cod Bay last summer, were picked up from entanglements. The turtles get wound up in fishing and lobster gear. She also caught two turtles in Nantucket Sound.

Dodge uses a spotter plane and a specially equipped boat, with a pulpit built by her husband and a giant hoop that’s dropped just in front of the turtle after the boat sneaks up from behind.

Bob, the first turtle, was tracked from Aug. 29 to Sept. 15. It was found dead Sept. 17, just off Dennis entangled in two sets of lobster gear, one trap and a 10-pot trawl. It never left the bay.

Scusset, the second turtle, was tracked for 184 days. It remained in the bay for a month until Oct. 19 when it rounded Race Point, went west to the Mid-Atlantic, swam off the continental shelf, swung by Bermuda following an underwater mountain chain and headed for the Bahamas and U.S. coast when the battery burned out.

“Scusset dove to over 500 meters (1,600 feet), swam 7,612 kilometers or 4,730 miles in 184 days,” Dodge said.

Unfortunately, the third turtle was also ill-fated. It had been entangled twice and after a month stopped moving. Dodge tracked it down by kayak in the Chase Garden Creek marsh system on the Dennis/Yarmouth town line. She hauled it in and dissected it.

“We found a 3-foot by 1 1/2-foot piece of plastic sheeting in its stomach,” she said. “It was a very unlucky turtle all around.”

Leatherbacks can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and once they ingest it it’s stuck in their system.

One of the transmitters, which are fist sized and cost $5,000, quickly stopped working on the first of the Sound-caught leatherbacks. The second turtle, “Holly,” made a beeline for the continental shelf and the transmission stopped after 16 days.

Dodge is looking forward to this summer’s tagging season.

“There are over 40 sightings now of leatherbacks in Rhode Island and Massachusetts waters,” she said. “They’re mostly in Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound and some around Martha’s Vineyard. There is a high density of jellyfish off the Vineyard.”

Two weeks ago, on July 17, she captured her first free-swimming non-entangled leatherback, “Henry.”

“He’s an awesome looking turtle. You can see how fat he is,” she said showing off a slide. “When they’re gorging on jellyfish they can blow up. We estimate he is 700 to 800 pounds. In fact the blood work was showing high cholesterol. He has already gone off the continental shelf. In six days since he was tagged he has gone over 450 kilometers. That’s twice as fast as any other tagging data.”

Henry is a mover but is expected back since this is where the jellyfish are.

Worldwide in the 1980s there were an estimated 115,000 nesting females but that number fell to 20,000 to 30,000 by 1996. Turtles in the Pacific were especially hard hit due to the harvesting of eggs from the nests.

Cape Cod is an important part of their itinerary; 128 leatherbacks stranded here between 1996 and 2006. Dodge’s work will be especially useful in learning about their open water habits and needs.

“This migratory, warm-blooded, largest living reptile is simply too wonderful to abandon to extinction,” herpetologist Skip Lazell wrote in “This Broken Archipelago.”

“And I think I share those sentiments,” Dodge agreed.

Cape Codder