Tag Archives: stranding

Sad news

2015_11_13_Eric

I am sad to report that Eric, the lovely little Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, has died.

He couldn’t overcome the combination of emaciation, pneumonia, and the effects of hypothermia.

He had so many things stacked against him.

We did everything we could to help. Eric was cared for with great skill and extraordinary affection by Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark and his team.

We will now send Eric to Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island. Pierre-Yves will conduct a necropsy (which is like an autopsy) and that way we will learn if there were any additional complications Eric was dealing with. I’ll let you know what we hear.

I am trying to look on the bright side.

I am reminding myself that we learn something new with every sea turtle—both alive and dead—and that this is extremely important, particularly with endangered species.

I am reminding myself about how proud I am of the crew at Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound and the many other people like them in this province who take the time to keep our beaches clear of debris. Who take, simply, the time to walk them. To know the coastline. To be aware of the living place it is.

And then there are the things that I am grateful for that are harder to explain.

During much of the short time I spent with Eric, his eyes were closed. But when I watched him swim, they were wide open. And at one point, while Chris held him out of the water, I had a chance to look into them.

There is a wisdom in those eyes that is different from our own. That knows the world in a way we don’t. What a privilege to have been in its presence.

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Eric update

Eric swam for a bit today. We’re not letting him spend too much time in the water at this point so that he conserves what little energy he has. In very good news, Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, the vet taking care of Eric, said that our turtle is no longer hypothermic. His temperature is in the normal range again.

Eric is still fighting pneumonia, and likely will be for a while. But Chris says the biggest challenge now is how emaciated Eric is. He isn’t showing an interest in eating yet, which is a worry. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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Meet Eric

2015_11_10_Eric

This turtle is alive!

For the second time that we know of in the seventeen years we’ve been working with sea turtles, someone found a stranded hard-shelled sea turtle along a Nova Scotia shore before it died. Now we’re trying our best to help it survive.

On Sunday, as they do every day, the employees of the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound scanned the coastline near them to make sure it was clear of debris. They collect any garbage or broken crates they see to prevent them from washing back into the ocean.

“I saw a blue box out on the rocks, and asked Les Roy to go and get it,” explained Hope Shanks, who has worked at the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound for nineteen years. “He came back with this turtle.”

Hope called our good friend Dr. Sherman Bleakney, who lives in Wolfville. Sherman was the first scientist to propose that leatherbacks might be regular visitors to Canadian waters back in 1965. He called our toll-free turtle line, his voice packed with characteristic enthusiasm.

“How are you?” I asked him.

“I’m great as you’d expect on a day where there’s a live sea turtle in Hall’s Harbour,” was his reply.

The turtle is a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It is, as you know, the second Kemp’s we’ve found recently. It’s the first one we’ve ever found alive. It’s also only the thirteenth Kemp’s ridley turtle on record in the history of Atlantic Canada. And, while we’re discussing statistics, it’s worth noting that it’s the fourth hard-shelled sea turtle we’ve worked with in the last ten days and the second found in Hall’s Harbour.

“These turtles may be more common in Canadian waters than we thought,” says Canadian sea turtle biologist Dr. Mike James. Mike captured and released a Kemp’s of this size while he was doing research offshore this summer.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered sea turtles in the world. This turtle is a juvenile, which means that it is too young for us to be able to determine its sex by looking at it. But the crew at the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound named the turtle “Eric,” so we’re sticking with that. Eric is cold stunned. This means he found himself suddenly in water that was too cold for him to manage.

At the moment, Eric is safely tucked into a blue tote under the care of Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, a veterinarian who is one of the founding members of the CSTN.

“This turtle is severely hypothermic and emaciated,” Chris said. He pointed to the muscles in Eric’s neck, which were clearly visible under the skin, as opposed to buried in a healthy layer of fat. “These are both difficult conditions to deal with.”

Chris had a warning tone in his voice. The it’s-a-long-road-from-here tone. The just-be-prepared tone. The watch-your-heart tone.

Because of course, although Eric is critically ill, he’s already beloved by all of us.

And maybe by you, too.

Chris Harvey-Clark kindly shared this video of Eric’s initial vet visit:

https://vimeo.com/145212030

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Little sea turtles

Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

These two sweeties were in our office this morning: a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle. They were both found dead along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy. They are small—juvenile turtles—and they are something to see in person. I am struck by how delicate a turtle, despite its shell, can seem. How vulnerable.

There are only a dozen Kemp’s ridley sightings on record in Nova Scotia. Kemp’s are considered the most endangered of the world’s sea turtles. And although we know we have loggerheads in Atlantic Canadian waters, it is rare for us to come across one this young.

These little turtles are, of course, much, much smaller than a leatherback. Scientists measure sea turtles using their shell length, which we refer to as the Curved Carapace Length or “CCL.” The smallest leatherback turtle we have ever worked with had a CCL of just under 120 cm. This Kemp’s had a CCL of 27 cm and the loggerhead had a CCL of 24.5 cm.

We won’t know for certain why these turtles died until our friend Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island conducts the necropsy (which is like an autopsy) on them next week. But it is a safe bet that they died of hypothermia.

Leatherbacks are able to withstand colder water temperatures than hard-shelled turtles (like Kemp’s and loggerheads) can. When hard-shelled turtles suddenly find themselves in cold water, they become “cold stunned.” If they are found soon enough they can survive. In November and December, sea turtles routinely cold stun along the coast of New England. Last year, there were an unprecedented number.

The Kemp’s was found by Betty Kenneally. Betty walks the beach near her home four times a week. She isn’t patrolling for sea turtles specifically, but this happens to be the second Kemp’s ridley turtle she’s found and reported to us.

The loggerhead was found by Carrie Dickie, who was walking the beach near her home. Her husband, Gerald Dickie, a biologist himself, carefully recorded all of the details of the animal for us.

Gerald Dickie's careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Gerald Dickie’s careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

We are so grateful that they thought to call us. If you live in Nova Scotia and are interested in helping us patrol the beaches for these animals over the next six weeks, please email us at: info@seaturtle.ca.

I’ve seen many dead sea turtles over the years. And each time I wish I could whisper a bit of life into them in the way one might be allowed in a Disney film. Something to make the heads lift up and the flippers move. Something that would allow us to send them safely back into the ocean.

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Sea turtles in snow

I was home, ready to start dinner when the turtle hotline rang. One of my favourite people was on the phone. John Angus MacIntyre works in the Conservation and Protection Office in Port Hood, Nova Scotia. John Angus is always kind and funny. He is also smart and resourceful. Things get done when he’s involved.

“Believe it or not, we’ve got a turtle for you here, Kathleen,” he said. “Down on the beach at Baxter’s Cove in Judique. I’m just here now at the house of the guy who found it. It’s dead.”

Judique is a good three hours drive from Halifax where our office is. I looked out my kitchen window. Snowflakes were drifting down in earnest.

“I’ll go out and have a look at it and make sure it won’t get washed away in the tide. Then we’ll help you deal with it in the morning. I’ll call you first thing,” he said.

It was dark by this time and freezing cold. The wind by the shore would be sharp and bitter. But John Angus collected his camera and drove to the beach—long after his workday should have ended. Within a few hours, a set of photographs appeared in my inbox. They were of a loggerhead turtle, its body encrusted in snow and frozen sand.

This isn’t the first sea turtle to wash up dead in the winter. There have been several over the years. The photographs are truly Canadian—a real reminder that we work with these animals in a place that is radically different from the places they inhabit in the south.

Devan_loggerhead_CThe loggerhead is now in the back of our field truck. This is a picture of it with Devan, our turtle technician. The turtle is a juvenile and, as you’ll notice, it has been dead for a while. The skin has worn off its head, parts of its flippers are missing, the bone on its shell is exposed in many places. But it is still something quite amazing to see.

The loggerhead’s next stop is the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where our friend and colleague Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust will perform a necropsy (which is like an autopsy) to determine its cause of death. Our best guess now is that the turtle died of hypothermia. We’ll keep you posted.

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