Tag Archive | Cape Cod

Right Whale Tale(s)


A female North Atlantic Right Whale swimming in a Provincetown Harbor in 2004.

Since the movie Big Miracle, a film that’s a about a grey whale rescue in Alaska is out in theaters, I thought to commemorate it by sharing with you two whale watch experiences I had with the endangered North Atlantic right whale. These encounters occurred in 2004 and 2010. 

The first encounter with a wild right whale took place in October 2004. I was 12 at the time and whale watch boat that my family and I were aboard on was just leaving the harbor to see some whales in the Stellwagen’s Bank National Marine Sanctuary which was 10 miles off of Cape Cod. About just a minute into leaving the harbor, the naturalist unexpectedly stopped the boat about 500 yards out of port; it was then, he announced that there were right whales in the harbor. He then went on to talk about the right whales when suddenly, two right whales, a mother and her calf surfaced about 150 yards from our boat and believe me, it was such a site to see. However, just as we were all enjoying the right whales swimming by the boat, two jet skiers passed by the boat and they were too close to the whales and just to make matters worse, the jet skiers were skiing to fast in the harbor. As a result, the horrified naturalist warned them that he would report them if they slowed down and stayed 300 yards away from the whales, but the skiers kept on ignoring the naturalist before he finally called the coast guard on them. That was such an unexpected day because normally, you will not find right whales swimming in harbors but rather like 10-30 miles offshore if you’re lucky.

Then about almost two years ago in March 2010, my mother and I went down to coastal town of Provincetown, Massachusetts for Easter weekend in hopes that we to try out some land-based whale watching and see some whales. One the first evening we were there, we were at Herring Cove Beach when three North Atlantic right whales were sighted just five and a half miles offshore. Although they were far away, but you were able to see them up-close via, binoculars. Just to make things more interesting, I witnessed a young right whale calf learning how to breach from her mother and “auntie”. One of the two adult animals would breach first before the calf would repeat the behavior over and over again. It was such a precious moment to watch a whale calf learn from her mother.

These two right whale encounters were just amazing and far beyond my wildest imaginations. I hope that the next time I go whale watch, I get to see some right whales again.

Have a whale of a Valentine’s Day everyone,

~Jenna~

Advertisements

How to Save a Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle


Thanks to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of the New England Aquarium, cold-stunned sea turtles like Rorschach (#10) (photo by the NEAQ sea turtle rescue team)

Each year, around 50 to 200 sea turtles will beach themselves on the shores of the Massachusetts coastline from late October through December as a result of cold stunning. For those who may not be familiar with this term, “cold stunning” is when a sea turtle is exposed to cold water temperatures that are less than 65 degrees followed by a sudden hypothermic reaction. The symptoms include decrease in heart rate, a decrease in circulation, lethargy, shock, dehydration, pneumonia, and even death.  But the question that many people have in mind is why do these turtles come to Massachusetts waters in the first place? Well, this is because every summer when the water temperature gets to be about 70 degrees, the sea turtles (many of which are Kemp’s Ridleys) will feed on crabs in Cape Cod Bay after swimming through the Gulf Stream Current. The waters of Cape Cod Bay serve as a rich and hospitable seasonal habitat for the migrating animals who could often be seen in bays, inlets, and sheltering harbors. However, by late-October, the turtles will begin to migrate south to the warm waters of Florida, and the Caribbean while those who get trapped in the arm of the Cape, especially those feeding in shallow and inlet waters, will eventually become victims of cold stunning and before being pulled by the wind to the beaches of Cape Cod.  Once these turtles strand on the beach thanks to the unforgiving winds, they are now at the mercy of the icy cold waves and tides. There, the clock begins to tick when it comes to matter of life and death.

This is where organizations like the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary of Wellfleet Bay and the New England Aquarium come in. During the cold stunning season, volunteers will patrol the beaches after high tide in search of sea turtles in need of rescuing from the icy cold waters. Once a turtle is found, sometimes, volunteers will gently touch it to check for a reaction to see if it’s either a live or dead and sometimes, it’s hard to determine that because some animals could be found, show no reaction, be presumed dead before finally showing a reaction. Turtle experts call this “Lazarus turtles” because of this coma-like reaction that some of the turtles present. Meanwhile, once the turtles are rescued, they are transported to Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary where they are held for a short period of time before being transported to the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Facility in Quincy where they could receive treatment for up to two years depending on their condition on a long-term basis. Sometimes, some of these turtle patients will be transferred to other facilities like SeaWorld, or the National Aquarium in Baltimore  where they will continue their rehabilitation before being released in the spring and early summer months in the waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

After nearly six to eight months of rehabilitation, the remaining sea turtles (the ones who were never transported to other facilities) are released into either the Atlantic Coasts of Florida, Virginia, and southern Cape Cod where some of the animals are satellite tagged so that biologists can continue to keep track on the progress of the released animals in all hopes they do get themselves stuck in Cape Cod Bay again and return to their tropical habitats.

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles released off the coast of Florida in April 2011 (photo by NEAQ)

What can you do if you see a cold-stunned sea turtle:

1. Do not put it back in the water. Do not remove it from the beach.
Move it above the high tide line.
2. Cover it with seaweed and mark its location with a stick, buoy or other beach debris.
3. Call the Massachusetts Wellfleet Audubon Society at 508-349-2615 or the New England Aquarium’s rescue hotline at 617-973-5247and leave a message as to its location. Please be as specific as possible in giving directions from the nearest beach access so rescuers and volunteers can recover the turtle quickly.