Tag Archive | wildlife rescues

A Letter to Congress Concerning the Exclusion of the the John H. Prescott Grant Program


Boomerang, a young California sea lion who resides at Mystic Aquarium, was rescued by the California-based non-profit, the Marine Mammal Center. Both Mystic and Marine Mammal Center operate Prescott grant-funded rescue and rehabilitation programs.

The following post is a letter I just wrote to my congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) about my concern over the exclusion of the John H. Prescott Grant Program from next year’s federal budget. This grant was established by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service 12 years ago to provide government funding to marine mammal rehabilitation facilities, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, Marine Mammal Center, SeaWorld, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Monteray Bay Aquarium in order to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate, and release marine mammals in trouble.  

To Congressman Bass,

I am writing on behalf of marine mammal rehabilitation facilities nationwide that could suffer from budget cuts if the John H. Prescott Grant Program continues to be excluded from the 2013 federal budget. Last summer, I did an internship at the Clearwater, FL-based Clearwater Marine Aquarium and I saw the work they have put in rescuing and rehabilitating troubled dolphins, otters, and sea turtles in all hopes that they could go back into the wild someday.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, like all other marine life facilities that specialize in marine mammal strandings and rehabilitation, coordinate with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and respond to over 5,000 animals each year. In response to the public demand for funding, NOAA established the John H. Prescott Grant Program in 2000 to fund the works of all these organizations which has financially sustained them for the last 12 years. Sadly, however, the Prescott funding has not been included in the 2013 funding.

Marine mammals, such as orcas, dolphins, and seals play a huge role in the marine eco system and often serve as sentential of ocean health and are often early indicators of unhealthy ocean conditions, such as the effects of oil spills, pollution, habitat loss, and the ever growing concern of climate change which has been recognized with bottlenose dolphin populations in the Gulf Coast that have been effected by the most recent oil spill.

Organizations, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and the California-based Marine Mammal Center, are all funded by the Prescott Grant and serve as America’s first responders in these cases and provide the only chance biologists will get to study and understand the how and why marine mammals strand in the first place and provide surveillance for possibly dangerous risks. Without this grant, these organization will have a hard time funding future rescues, rehabilitation and conservation efforts, and just to make matters worse, they may not be able to fund their own future projects in regards to facility upgrades nor operation costs. Because these facilities rehabilitate marine mammals, they meet certain standards of care for their patients which has been established by the US National Marine Fisheries Services and if the Prescott grant continues to remain excluded from next year’s funding, the animals that are being rehabilitated by these facilities will suffer too.

Many zoo and aquarium professionals, patrons, and marine biologists are all calling for this life-saving grant to be included in the 2013 federal budget. This is because it allows organizations to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals in trouble as well as study the unhealthy effects on the marine ecosystem and what could be done to protect marine mammals and their habitats. I myself am also calling for Congress to restore the Prescott funding because it allows these organizations to keep going on preserving and keep a pulse on marine life and the health of all marine ecosystems.

Thank you for taking the time for understanding the importance of the  John H. Prescott Grant Program and how it’s used to keep marine mammal rescues going.

Sincerely,
Jenna Costa Deedy
Student at Nashua Community College                                                                                                                                                                                               Writer for the aquarium internship blog, the Winter Dolphin Chronicles
Nashua, NH.

You too can write to your representative and tell them that we can’t afford to cut the Prescott grant program because without it, marine mammal rescue organizations will have a difficult time funding rescue and conservation efforts just go to https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and start writing.

Have a good evening everyone,

~Jenna~

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Oil in The Water: A Report on How the Gulf Oil Spill Is Affecting Cetaceans, Sea Turtles, and Birds


It could be years before anyone knows the full impact of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

On April 20th, 2010, The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed about 11 oil workers and caused the entire rig to sink into the Gulf about two days later. As a result, more than 206 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf waters which would go on to affect more than 9,436 marine animals (NOAA, 2011). The animal victims were birds, cetaceans, and sea turtles and many of these animals are either endangered, or threatened. However, while most of the animals that were recovered from the oil spill were rescued and rehabilitated, others sadly, were not so lucky. In fact, the large majority of these oil spill victims have either died or have never been found. While studies are currently being done by wildlife officials to learn about the effects the Gulf oil spill is having on wildlife, it may be more than 20 years before we would learn about the full effects on wild marine animals and their habitats. This recent oil spill in the gulf coast has been taking it’s toll on wildlife, including dolphins, turtles, and birds, on a long-term scale.

Of the nine dolphin rescues that have taken placed during the oil spill, only one dolphin, a juvenile male dolphin named Louie was successfully rehabilitated. (Photo by Zimbo.com)

During the oil spill, which lasted for six months, about 100 cetaceans were collected from oil spill inflicted areas (NWF, 2011). Cetaceans like bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, have no fur which can be oiled and since they have blubber to help them prevent internal heat loss, they do no need fur for that purpose (NOAA, 2010); this means that cetaceans can not develop hypothermia like seals and sea otters can when in contact with oil. Still, oil could harm then in many ways. For example, when dolphins surfaced to take a breath of air, the oily waters can get into their blowholes before entering their lungs which can then, make breathing very difficult for them (New England Aquarium, 2010). To make matters worse, oil has been known to cause vision damage, since the oil can get into eyes of cetaceans. Oil can make it harder for whales and dolphins to catch and digest their food. For the large baleen whales, like the Bryde’s whale, oil can harm the baleen they depend on for filter feeding, thereby, deceasing their ability to feed, which could then, lead to starvation (NOAA, 2010). Overall, oil has been known to cause intestinal damage to cetaceans and even effect whale and dolphin health on a long term scale. As of January 2011, It has now been reported that bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico may now be experiencing reproduction failure as a result of this spill. This is because researchers had been discovering the bodies of dead dolphin calves, many of which were stillborn, premature, or have died shortly after birth (National Geographic, 2011). The spill has seen at least nine live dolphin rescues that have occurred throughout the Gulf region (NOAA, 2011). However, of those rescues, only one dolphin, a juvenile male bottlenose dolphin named Louie, was successfully rehabilitated and was later transferred to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL in February 2011 (Segal, 2011). However, while the oil spill did have a lot of impact on most dolphin habitats throughout the Gulf Coast, one population of bottlenose dolphins in Orange Beach, Alabama was determined to have been not affect by the Gulf oil spill (NOAA, 2010). Currently, research is being done by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) to determine the oil spill’s effect on a population of endangered sperm whales in the Gulf Coast for, many cetacean experts had pointed out in the past that the deaths of three whales would push this particular population into extinction, just like the effects of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez oil spill did with a resident killer whale population in the 1990’s and 2000’s (Than, 2010).

After being rescued, oil-covered sea turtles were bathed using dish water soap to remove the oil off their skin (photo by NEAQ).

Sea turtles have inhabited the Gulf of Mexico for more about 100 million years. Five species of sea turtle, the green, Kemp’s Ridley, loggerhead, hawks-bill and leatherback sea turtles can all be found in Gulf coast waters and they were all put at a great risk by the BP oil spill (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Many sea turtles nest on Gulf Coast beaches that range from Mexico, to Florida. Because oil can damage turtle nests, wildlife volunteers in Alabama developed new ways to monitor turtle nests in beaches where the oil did not hit. The new methods included cleaning up any oil tar that may have washed up these beaches while conducting nighttime surveys along side clean-up crews; this criteria would start at nighttime, for, this was the time between April and October when female sea turtles came to these Alabama beaches to lay their eggs (Alabama Sea Turtles.com). However, the hatching season began to approach, there was a lot of public concern about newly hatched turtles entering the oil covered waters of the Gulf. If the hatch lings were to emerge on oiled-covered beaches, they can suffer from surface exposure, due to short-term exposure to oil tar that would cover the beaches where they hatched as they make it to the water (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Just to make matters worse, when these turtle hatchlings do make it into water, it would be no safe haven either. Out in the ocean, young turtles rely on seaweed to serve as a shelter that both protect them from predators, and simply, to rest. However, when the seaweed that the young animals rely on as a main habitat got covered in oil, the hatchlings were to doomed to their deaths, because once seaweed is covered in oil, it suffocates and becomes deprived of sunlight. Therefore, the hatchlings, had no protection what so ever. So, in response to public concern about the oil affecting turtle hatchlings and nests, biologists throughout the country began to relocate more than 275 sea turtles nests from the Gulf coast to beaches near the Kennedy Space Center in hopes to prevent a high hatchling mortality rate (Lelis, 2010). By the end of the 2010 summer season, sea turtle biologists estimated about over 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings made it to safe waters of Florida’s Atlantic coast (National Geographic, 2011). Meanwhile, oil can also cause turtles to become both sick and injured. For example, turtles can develop fatal respiratory problems, like pneumonia and cause breathing difficulties when the animals breathe the deadly vapors (New England Aquarium, 2011). When the turtles were first rescued, they were mainly covered in oil, which can also, cause their skin to come off as a result of burning. So, to de-oil the animals, rescuers used dish washing soap to clean the oil off the animal and the process lasted for up to hour. In fact, NOAA statistics show us that about 575 sea turtles were rescued and rehabilitated by biologists and zoo professionals throughout the Gulf coast while 397 of these animals were released by into the wild (NOAA, 2011).

Not only did birds become sick and injured from being covered in oil, their habitats were affected by this disaster as well.

Of all the animals that have been victimized by the 2010 Gulf coast oil spill, birds were the most common victims of this environmental disaster. About 8,183 of the animal victims of the Gulf oil spill were aquatic birds that rely on marshlands and beaches as critical nesting and feeding grounds (NOAA, 2011). The oil causes their feathers to both, mat and separate in which, it could cause them to lose both, buoyancy and the ability to regulate their body temperature. The birds need to keep their feathers peen, then, they would be able to keep themselves warm, keep parasites off their feathers, stay dry, and ensure that the feathers remain in good shape (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). As a result the oil-covered survivors are captured and taken into wildlife rehabilitation facilities where they would be rehabilitated. The rescue efforts were very successful that, In total, about 1,246 sea birds were successfully released back into the wild throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle (International Bird Rescue). Yet, despite the successful rescue efforts, the oil spill did a large amount of damage to hundreds of seabird nesting grounds throughout the Louisiana coastline. Once the oil hit those nesting grounds, not only were the nests now contaminated with oil, the eggs got covered in the oil as well. This meant that when the birds were trying to escape the incoming oil, they were also deserting their nests and leave their now too soft, and too thin eggs behind (New England Aquarium, 2010). Experts who have studied bird colonies in Raccoon Island, Louisiana had admitted to not planning to rescue the nesting birds because they feared that they could have disrupted entire colonies like causing adults to kill their chicks and abandoning their nests (Brown, 2010). In the spring of 2011, bird experts from the National Audubon Society reported that some nesting colonies of endangered brown pelicans returned to their oil-inflicted nests; yet, they have insisted that it could be many years before the extend damage of their food supply is known (National Geographic, 2011). The most tragic sight that beach goers have been seeing lately is the sight of small shorebirds that are now feeding on oil tar along with their prey while at the same time, get their tiny feet and feathers covered with oil and bringing the tar back to their at-risk nests.

Unless efforts are made to stop offshore drilling in the Gulf Coast, The Future of the Gulf of Mexico's marine ecosystem remains uncertain. (photo by National Geographic)

While the total impact of the Gulf oil spill may not be known for many years, the effect that it had on wildlife in the past year is shocking. In the past year since the oil spill first happened, dolphins faced a huge unusual mortality rate, sea turtle eggs put at risk of never hatching because of the oil covered the nests while researchers worked to relocate the surviving nests to the Atlantic coast, and birds, victims of being oil-covered now have to live with nesting in contaminated nesting grounds and suffer a high chick mortality rate. It’s safe to conclude that the oil spill is right now having and having a lot of negative effects on animals native the Gulf coast. For example, most species of dolphins are not endangered, but counting all the dolphin deaths that have occurred since the oil spill is troubling because once a dolphin dies, it’s body sinks to the bottom of the sea; so, it’s hard to get a full count of how many more dolphins died than what the NOAA statistics report (Animal Planet, 2011). So while full surveys on post-oil spill animal moralities will take twenty years or so to complete, it’s safe to say that oil spills can be prevented. First, It has been recommended that oil engineers should always check for any leaks that might be suspicious while being cautious at the same time when both fueling and de-fueling because oil spills often happen because of employee carelessness (ask.com, 2010). As for if a person comes across a stranded animal, alive or dead, NOAA recommends for everyone to call their stranding hotline to report a sick, distressed, orphaned, dead, or injured animal. That way, the networks can respond to this stranding quickly and determine how and why the animals strand. That way, everyone would be doing their part in preventing oil spills and keeping the oceans oil free. Overall, the number one thing to do to ensure that no oil spill would ever happen is educating the public. Through education weather if it’s at a marine life facility, or on a eco-tour boat, educating the public about the effects that oil spills can have on animals is on thing that would ensure both a change in attitude towards wildlife and develop a new awareness about how oil spills can affect wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

Only education and a change in attitude towards the Gulf Coast along with long term research will eventually preserve the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico.

Why is the Florida Manatee Endangered?


the Florida manatee, which is the closest relative to the elephant, first appeared in the fossil record around 50 million years ago. (photo by yours truly Jenna)

 

The Florida manatee is considered to be one of Florida’s most symbolic marine mammals in the state of Florida. As the sub-species of the West Indian Manatee, this species can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats throughout Florida and other coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico (Reeves). First appearing in the fossil record about 50 million years ago, manatees first appeared in the shallow bays and rivers of Florida around 15 million years ago (FWCC). They are also an instead favorite of scuba divers and kayakers who enjoy touring Florida’s wildlife parks for, they have been known to be very curious about the approaching people. Despite their popularity, manatees are one of the most endangered marine mammals in North America due to fishery conflict (better known as fishing entanglement), habitat loss and boat collisions. Of all These three causes, habitat loss in coastal areas has done a huge impact on manatees, because it has done a lot of damage to the the marine vegetation, and sea grass beds that they depend on. As a tragic result, chemical pollution that is produced from these newly developed coastal areas that travel into manatee habitats has now impaired their immune system; thus, putting them at risk for life threating infections (Bagheera). In fact, there are believe to be no more than 3,000
manatees remaining in US water. As a marine mammal species, they are legally protected by US national law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits any killing, capture, or inhumane harassment of these gentle giants for any purpose (SeaWorld).

Many manatees often fall victim to boat collisions.The first situation behind why manatees are endangered is due to boat collisions.

In 2010, a total of 83 manatees were killed by boat collisions throughout the state of Florida (FFWCC). This is because manatees have to go up to the surface in order to breathe air once every 10-15 minutes or else, they may drown. Another reason why boat collisions kill manatees is because they are slow moving animals. When a boat approaches, a manatee may have very little, or no time to escape the passing watercraft; thus, making it very vulnerable to the boat’s hull or propeller as it moves through shallow water (Rao, and Kimerly). In many cases, most manatees die from their injuries associated with these brutal collisions. For the very few animals who do survive these incidents, the scar patterns end up becoming the main method off identifying individual manatees when conducting a survey on them. In a 12-year-old study, researchers concluded that manatees continued to travel to the same feeding or breeding areas regardless, of the number of boats that were present in these areas. However, the use of sanctuaries by the animals did increase for, these areas provide a safe haven for them when it comes to feeding and reproduction purposes (Rao, and Kimerly).

Entanglement can cause permanent injury to manatees and other wildlife.

The second situation behind the endangerment of the Florida manatee is entanglement in fishing gear. Just like dolphins and sea turtles, manatees can easily get themselves entangled in fishing line while feeding. This is because manatees feed by grasping their upper lips and flippers on to aquatic vegetation. There hooks and fishing line get discarded after getting entangled in aquatic plants that the manatees feed on. As a result, the manatees, consequently, either swallow or get themselves entangled in fishing gear around the flippers or tail (Save the Manatee Club). Sometimes, the hooks can end up in the lips, mouth and internal organs of the animals too. Entanglement can lead to infections, long-term injuries, and even death. Manatees can also get themselves entangled by crab traps, thus, causing a huge problem for the marine mammals. The manatees find themselves entangled in ropes that connect traps to small buoys at the surface. Despite their small size, these traps contain heavier weight than hooks and fishing line, that, they can cause more server injuries. In many cases, the manatees end up drowning in the process. But for those who do survive, they have been sighted dragging the heavy dragging these traps for several miles before dying from an injury-induces infection.

During the Winter months, manatees are often seen residing near power plants and springs.

Finally, the reason why Florida manatees are considered to be endangered is because of habitat loss. As a tropical sea animal, manatees spend their entire lives in warm water that is no colder than 65 degrees (Fox). While they may spend most of their time around Florida waters, some manatees may migrate to waters off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas. However, development
along coastal regions of the Southeastern United States has resulted in loss of habitat area for the manatees (Fox). In one year alone, the population of coastal side towns in Florida and other Southeastern states grew to more than 1,000 people per day. To make matters worst, surveys done on manatee have shown a twenty-year increase in manatees migrating to artificial water refuges in the
winter time since there are a very few natural refuges that still exist within the state of Florida. These artificial refuges, which are located near seaside power plants, are small in comparison to natural refuges (DRC). As a result, manatee colonies overcrowd these tiny refuges that, it has been known to increase the spread of disease among the animals, and effect red tide locations. Because artificial refuges are run by power plants, these businesses are at risk of shutting down permanently. If these power plants were to shut down, then, the refuges they run would be to cold for the manatees to stay during the winter months, because power plants keep them warm throughout the winter months. This can result in a phenomenon called “cold-stunning”, which is a form a hypothermic reaction when manatees are exposed to cold water temperatures for a long period of time.

Zoological facilities like SeaWorld and the Lowry Park Zoo continue to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned, and injured manatees in trouble each year.

  Despite the threats that have caused Florida manatees to remain on the endangered species list, there has been a number of efforts to protect manatees and their habitats. In the case of the boat collision issue, the establishment of manatee sanctuaries has made it possible to reduce boat activity on manatee populations by allowing a small number of boats and tourists in critical manatee habitats, especially during holiday weekends and vacationing seasons (Rao, and Kimerly) . At the same time, observation by biologists has increased to monitor all manatee/boat interactions in hopes to prevent future collisions. To prevent entanglement in manatees, fishermen should avoid fishing in areas were manatees and other marine mammals are known to feed, breed, and raise their young. They should also not dispose any fishing gear in the water, because then, manatees, and other marine animals can easily get entangled in them (NOAA). Even a small amount of gear can lead to injury or death in a manatee. Finally, in the case of habitat destruction, there has been some effort to establish manatees sanctuaries and prevent further development in newly declared wild places. This does include some coastal areas that are declared as a sanctuary (Save the Manatee Club). In response to the high mortality rate in manatees, zoological parks in Florida that are authorized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue troubled wildlife have put in a series of efforts to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned,and injured manatees. In one year alone, one marine life facility rescued a total of 13 manatees, while six were released back into the wild (SeaWorld). With conservation efforts continuing, there is hope that the Florida manatee will be saved from extinction.

What does it Take to Rescue and Rehabilitate Wildlife in Trouble


A rescue team member at the New England Aquarium in Boston, MA treats a cold-stunned Kemp's Ridley (photo by NEAQ)

 

Every year, a number of sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals strand for various reasons. This is because when an animal strands, it’s because they are either out of their elements, or, outside of their survival envelope. However, identifying an animal as “stranded” is very difficult because, many times, animals will mask their symptoms to avoid predation; but the main signs that would tell you that an animal is stranded would include the following: illness, orphaned by an un-returning mother after 24 hours, injury, or suffering from any condition that may prevent movement or feeding on their own.  If you come across a sick, orphaned, or injured marine animal, please keep an eye on it for a long period of time. Then, call your local zoological park that does wildlife rehabilitations, or or nearest wildlife rehabilitation center that does rescue and rehabilitations of marine wildlife (be sure you give the exact situation and location of the animal too).

The only other thing you could from there after that is allow the wildlife professionals do their thing. Once an animal arrives at a rescue and rehabilitation facility, the process begins. During rehabilitation, an animal must have very little to no human contact to prevent it from imprinting on human care takers. One part of rehabilitation is long term treatment by veterinarians. This treatment can include surgery, bottle-feeding orphaned animals, and giving sick animals anti-biotics to prevent infection. Rehabilitation can usually take months, or sometimes, even years. Some facilities even provide animals undergoing rehabilitation live fish in order to teach them how to hunt, while some marine animals, like sea turtles undergo physical rehabilitation in medical pools in order to help rebuild strength loss from oil spills and cold-stunning seasons.

Once rehabilitation has been completed, and they are releasable, a decision must be made regarding where the animal should be released since most marine animals are migratory. There, researchers will search for a location that is best suited for releasing an animal.  For example, when releasing newly rehabilitated seals and sea lions, it’s best to release them in areas where haul-outs are common, and are away from human contact. But, if an animal has a condition or has been in a situation where they have a very little chance of surviving on their own, then researchers can then have the power to declare them as non-releasable. A non-releasable animal is then transferred to a zoological park that houses animals of the same species as the one that is rescued. They will then, live out their lives in human care.

If you would like to learn more how to get involve with wildlife rehabilitation, please visit  http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/what-we-do/rehabilitation-release/what-we-do-rehabilitation-1.html

http://www.seewinter.com/ for more information.