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MONDAY, 9/26

Investigating the Potential Impacts of Offshore Wind on Marine Mammals & Sea Turtles in Coastal New England

  • Francesca Battaglia, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Ebru Unal, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Susan Smith, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Danielle Lavoie, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Laura Thompson, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Sarah Callan, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Allison D. Tuttle, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT 

  • Eric Anderson, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Robert A. DiGiovanni, Jr., Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Hampton Bays, NY

  • Tracy Romano, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

 

Offshore wind development is expanding in New England, including in Mystic Aquarium’s stranding response coverage area off the coasts of Connecticut and Rhode Island. To gain a better understanding of the potential impacts of offshore wind farms on marine mammals and sea turtles, Mystic Aquarium will be contributing important information and developing technologies to monitor health and physiology, detection and presence, and movements and diving patterns of marine mammal and sea turtle species before, during, and after construction and operation of wind farms. Non-invasive technologies to monitor hormones, immune function, physiology, and health will continue to be validated and developed for application to wild marine mammals. Prevalence and cause of marine mammal and sea turtle strandings in Mystic Aquarium’s coverage area, along the coasts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Fisher’s Island, NY, will be determined. The movement and behavior of seals and sea turtles will be monitored via satellite tagging of rehabilitated and released animals from Mystic Aquarium in collaboration with Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. This multifaceted approach will provide objective data on the potential impacts of offshore wind farms. Results obtained will inform mitigation strategies and improve monitoring efforts as renewable energy is developed in New England.
 

Investigating Success of Stranded Marine Mammal Surveillance by the Public, Trained Response Staff, and Unoccupied Aerial Surveys

  • Jennifer C.G. Bloodgood, Cornell Wildlife Health Lab, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, New York

  • Mackenzie L. Russell, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, Alabama 

  • C. Díaz Clark, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, Alabama

  • Mary Ponti, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, Alabama

  • R.H. Carmichael, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, Alabama

Stranded marine mammals provide valuable information on causes of mortality and threats to free-ranging populations, however, the success of carcass detection by the public and trained responders is not well known. To better understand carcass detection rates (CDR), we placed a known number of decoy carcasses (n=12) simulating naturally occurring, deceased bottlenose dolphins around Dauphin Island, Alabama, for one week during February 2023. Each decoy was labelled with an identification code and phone number. Three carcasses were placed in each of four regions representing different habitat types (marsh or beach) and human use (low or high boat/foot traffic). Calls from the public were recorded, and trained stranding responders actively searched for the decoys via drone/visual observation and either boat/kayak or UTV/foot. We received 16 calls from the public; most (75%) were from a high traffic beach site, and there were no reports from a low traffic marsh site. The CDR for the public across all habitat types was 50%, while the CDR for trained responders was 83%. Trained responders found fewer decoys using drone/visual observation (n=8) than other methods (n=9), however the decoys found were different. Preliminary results highlight the importance of trained observers in carcass detection and suggest that drones can aid search efforts. Future work will evaluate CDR across additional seasons and further examine the effects of habitat type, weather, search method, and extent of training. Resulting data will help address critical challenges to stranded marine mammal response and documentation in any coastal region with mixed use.
 

TUESDAY, 9/27

Multi-Organization Internship Collaboration to Increase Program Field Response, Outreach, and Research Capacity 

  • Sarah E. Callan, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Connecticut

  • Valerie Preler, Block Island Maritime Institute, New Shoreham, Rhode Island

  • Jon Dodd, Atlantic Shark Institute, Wakefield, Rhode Island

  • Eric Anderson, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Connecticut

  • Allison D. Tuttle, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Connecticut

 

Mystic Aquarium responds to marine mammal reports and strandings across 1,022 miles of shoreline in CT, RI, and Fisher’s Island, NY. Over the past five years the seal population on Block Island, RI has continued to rapidly increase. While logistics for island responses pose many challenges alone, seal population dynamics combined with a rise in tourism have heightened the need for stranding program presence on island, particularly regarding human interaction cases. In addition, program opportunities to conduct critical research and data collection on local seal species with a changing dynamic have been limited due to minimal resources. To increase program capacity for these needs, an innovative approach was taken to create a multifaceted, multi-organization approach utilizing collaborative research, internship opportunities and advanced training. Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program is building upon a long-standing relationship with Block Island Maritime Institute to create an internship position that is beneficial to both organizations and expands the capacity across many facets of the field where resources are challenging. Likewise, building relationships with regional researchers at the Atlantic Shark Institute, RI DEM, and other entities is providing new opportunities for population studies and unique views into predator-prey interactions.  Finally, these relationships and programs are providing new opportunities for outreach and training to have a greater response and impact on seal populations on Block Island. As a pilot season, the Animal Rescue Program is looking forward to using lessons learned to continue to grow and improve these new relationships to increase program capacity for years to come.

Expanding Public Outreach and Education by Highlighting Unique “Seal-ebrity” Patients and Showcasing their Success Stories

  • Alexandra V. Cojocaru, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Sarah E. Callan, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Allison D. Tuttle, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

 

For over the past 45 years, Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program has been responding to marine mammal strandings on over 1,000 miles of shoreline in CT, RI, and Fishers Island, NY. Since 2016, the program has admitted over 300 seals for rehabilitation. High-profile or unique success story cases capture the public’s attention and can be leveraged to broaden our audience, leading to a greater impact on public awareness of our program’s key messaging and efforts. Last year, an adult male gray seal, Shoebert, stranded in an industrial pond in Massachusetts. Shoebert’s case helped foster relationships between various stranding and municipal entities and increased community support by locally disseminated messaging of seal behavior, human interaction issues, and conservation. Recently, Northlands, a juvenile gray seal that stranded in Bermuda, sparked an international virtual outreach effort over two countries; his release reached over 2.5 million live viewers, allowing for an increasingly broad distribution of our program’s messaging. Highlighting these seal-ebrity cases has provided greater opportunities to engage and educate the public to promote conservation and awareness of marine mammals.

What’s the Score? Using a Matrix to Evaluate Potential Rehabilitation Patients

  • Jennifer Dittmar, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland

  • Kate Shaffer, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland

  • Margot Madden, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland

  • Caitlin Bovery, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland

 

Organizations that are permitted for marine mammal and sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation activities often encounter situations where a stranded animal needs to be evaluated for rehabilitation. How these cases are evaluated, and the process by which they are cleared for admittance to rehabilitation can vary. Variables may include, but are not limited to, species, size, age class, injuries or illness, staffing, availability of rehab space, and transport options. As a result of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, staff with the Animal Rescue and Animal Health teams at the National Aquarium collaborated to develop formal matrices to score potential seal and sea turtle rehabilitation cases. The original version of the matrices in 2020 included sections relating to real-time COVID-19 restrictions, staffing, known information regarding the animal being considered for rehabilitation, and cumulative patient caseload at the aquarium. As a conservation organization that has resident animals in our living exhibits, as well as wildlife in rehabilitation, staff with Animal Rescue and Animal Health must follow established quarantine procedures to reduce the risk of cross-contamination between residents and wildlife. The matrices became a foundation for internal discussions between staff from both departments. Feedback from both teams determined that the matrices were valuable in directing discussions and conversations about pending rehabilitation cases, without causing additional burden to workflow. Following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the matrices were modified to meet current needs, and are regularly utilized, reviewed, and updated as needed.     

Virginia Bottlenose Dolphin Causes of Stranding and/or Death, 2015-2022

  • Alexandra Epple, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Stranding Response Program, Virginia Beach, VA

  • Alexander Costidis, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Stranding Response Program, Virginia Beach, VA 

  • Abigail Steele, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Stranding Response Program, Virginia Beach, VA; Current Affiliation: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Port Charlotte, FL

 

All bottlenose dolphins that stranded in Virginia from 2015 to 2022 (n=578) were assigned a preliminary proximate cause of stranding and/or death (COSD) based on the identification of gross significant findings. COSD were separated into three main categories: 1) natural, 2) anthropogenic, and 3) could not be determined (CBD). If applicable, a more specific cause was assigned (e.g. infectious, perinatal, acute trauma, chronic entanglement, etc.). Almost half of the stranded dolphins (n=273, 47%) did not receive thorough enough examinations (e.g. due to decomposition and/or logistics, frozen, etc.) to determine COSD (assigned COSD was CBD-Not Examined). An additional almost quarter of the animals (n=137, 24%) received an examination, but the cause of death could not be determined (i.e. confounding findings, no significant findings, too decomposed). Of those for which a cause of death was determined (n=168, 29%), slightly more were natural (n=89) than anthropogenic (n=79) in nature. The most common natural cause of stranding was infectious (n=47, 53%), while the most common anthropogenic cause of stranding was acute entanglement (n=71, 90%). COSD was determined in all fresh dead animals (n=14), while in cases of advanced decomposition (n=65), the vast majority could not be determined and the only assigned COSD was acute entanglement (n=4). Consistent identification of COSD has important implications for monitoring population health and species management (e.g. identifying fisheries mortalities). In addition, its analysis can also help guide stranding response organizations to better utilize available resources.
 

tuesday
wednesday

WEDNESDAY, 9/29

“Ready for Your Close Up?” A Geo-spatial Study of Delaware’s Bottlenose Dolphin Population Using Flukebook to Establish Photo Identification 

  • Zeal Goolesby, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

  • Suzanne Thurman, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 
     

Due to declining cetacean populations, creating new methods to identify and track individuals has become an important data tool. Collecting data on individuals dolphins, such as age, gender, and location allows researchers to improve their knowledge of entire species. FlukeBook, a new resource in the marine mammal conservation community, is the method MERR uses to identify and track individual dolphins.  Flukebook is an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) program which utilizes A.I. algorithms to scan photos of dorsal fins and flukes for distinguishing features, such as notches, scars, epibionts, trailing edge, contrasting color, and more. MERR started using this program in the Summer 2022 to track the local population of various dolphin species, with special focus on the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the most common dolphin species in coastal Delaware. The study is being conducted by MERR staff and interns aboard a local tour boat, which provides access to the Harbor of Refuge at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, an area known for historically abundant bottlenose dolphin populations.  Dorsal fin photos are obtained and cataloged using FlukeBook to determine population and geo-spatial information.  This program proves beneficial to track individuals within populations and alert us to changes in species trends.

Case Study: Mycobacteria chelonae in a Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

  • Linda Lory, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA 02169

  • Adam Kennedy, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Sarah Perez, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Sarah DiCarlo, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Alessia Brugnara, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Kristen Luise, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Charles Innis, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

  • Melissa Joblon, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

  • Kathryn Tuxbury, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

 

A juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) stranded cold-stunned on December 14, 2022, in Dennis, MA. The turtle was admitted to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and transported to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzard’s Bay, MA for continued rehabilitation. Due to the critical nature of the case, the turtle was transferred to the New England Aquarium’s Rescue and Rehabilitation department on January 5, 2023. The turtle was admitted anorexic, with a prominent carapace deformity and multifocal erosive lesions on all four flippers. Due to the extensive flipper lesions and anorexia, the turtle was placed on empirical antibiotics, fluid therapy, systemic supplements and tube feedings. On January 26, lameness of both front flippers was observed, and subsequent swelling of the left stifle and both carpal joints were appreciated. A fine needle aspirate of the left stifle confirmed presence of Acid-fast positive bacilli, and subsequent culture confirmed Mycobacteria chelonae. Additional diagnostics were performed to confirm or rule out other pathologies.  An aggressive multimodal therapy was initiated in light of the Mycobacterial polyarthritis diagnosis. On April 20, 2023, the turtle underwent surgical debridement of the left carpus and left stifle joints, samples were submitted for histological evaluation. After a brief recovery, a second surgical debridement was performed on the right carpus. Histological results of the samples obtained from the surgeries were consistent with previous findings of mycobacteriosis. Currently, this turtle is undergoing continued care and the prognosis remains guarded.  

Rehabilitation trends of pinnipeds in the Mid-Atlantic,
1991-2023

  • Margot Madden, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland 

  • Jennifer Dittmar, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland 

  • Kate Shaffer, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland 

  • Caitlin Bovery, National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland 

  • Suzanne Thurman, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

 

In 1991, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, signed their first Marine Mammal Standing Response Agreement with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) permitting long-term pinniped rehabilitation. From 1991 to 2023, a total of 130 pinnipeds were deemed candidates for long-term rehabilitation. Over the course of three decades, a species demographic shift has been observed, leading to medical advancements and husbandry modifications needed for those undergoing long-term rehabilitation. During the 1990’s, harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) were the primary pinniped species observed in the mid-Atlantic, while grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) were a rarity. During the 2000’s, grey seals have been the dominate pinniped species seen along the Delaware and Maryland coastline. From 1991 to 2023, harbor seal rehabilitation admissions have declined by 69%, while grey seal admissions have grown by 567%. A seasonal maturing grey seal population off Cape Henlopen, Delaware, has been thought to be the primary driving force behind the species demographic shift. With the Delaware colony population having matured, younger animals have been frequently seen during the most recent decade in long-term rehabilitation with aliments that were not historically seen previously other than the New England and the Tri-State territories; aliments include abandoned maternally dependent pups, otitis media and parasitic burdens such as Otostrongylus circumlitus and Parafilaroides gymnurus. The first maternally dependent grey seal pup was admitted into long-term rehabilitation in 2020. 

Impact of Environmental Contaminants on Disease Susceptibility in a Coastal Gray Seal Population

  • Christina McCosker, PhD Candidate, University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences, Orono, Maine

  • Milton Levin, Associate Research Professor, University of Connecticut, Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, Storrs, Connecticut

  • Wendy B. Puryear, Senior Research Associate, Tufts University, Cummings School of
    Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Massachusetts

  • Jonathan A. Runstadler, Professor, Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Massachusetts

  • Kristina M. Cammen, Associate Professor, University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences, Orono, Maine

 

Over the past few decades, an increase in the number of reported disease outbreaks has been associated with a general decline in the health of coastal ecosystems. Environmental contaminants may increase disease susceptibility in marine mammals through impacts on immune functions, particularly in upper trophic level species. Across the North Atlantic Ocean, influenza A virus (IAV) is responsible for episodic large-scale mortality events in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) that are thought to be the result of spillover from infected gray seals (Halichoerus grypus), a proposed wild disease reservoir. Evidence suggests that persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), play a role in harbor seal immunosuppression, thus increasing susceptibility to IAV infection; however, there is limited information available on the persistence and impacts of PCBs in gray seals. We leveraged samples from an existing research program to quantify PCBs and measure cytokines in wild-capture gray seal pups from Massachusetts. PCBs were measured in 128 pups, with ΣPCBs ranging from 0 (in 48 pups) to 564.5 ng/g wet weight. We are currently investigating the relationship between PCB exposure, IAV infection, and cytokine concentrations in a subset of 88 pups. This research will also establish baseline blood PCB concentrations and cytokine reference intervals, tools that may be of value to marine mammal stranding responders when deciding if a stranded animal requires intervention. Overall, this research will advance scientific knowledge regarding the impacts of POPs on disease prevalence and immune response in a coastal marine mammal species.

Changes in Corticosterone Levels of New York’s Cold Stunned Sea Turtles from Intake to Release

 

Sea turtles strand on Long Island, New York beaches in the late fall and winter due to cold stunning, a process akin to hypothermia. Life stages and species most prone to cold stun are juvenile Kemp’s ridleys, juvenile Atlantic greens, and subadult loggerheads. In response to prolonged stressful events, sea turtles produce the hormone corticosterone, which circulates in the bloodstream and contributes to mobilization of energy reserves. Exposure to cold conditions triggers corticosterone production, thus making it an important component of the cold stunning response. This study documented the change in circulating corticosteroids that cold-stunned sea turtles experience following rescue and rehabilitation and aimed to correlate corticosterone levels to successful rehabilitation and release. Over a 3-year period (2020-2023), blood plasma samples were obtained by a senior staff member from NYMRC for all live stranded sea turtles. Samples were taken at the intake physical (day 1), after the animal was warmed to optimal body temperature (day 5 approximately 24˚C), and shortly before the individual’s release following rehabilitation. Animals that died during rehabilitation were sampled post-mortem. Plasma samples were processed at Manhattanville College with a Corticosterone ELISA kit (Enzo Scientific) optimized for vertebrate animals. Corticosterone trends prior to, during, and following rehabilitation will be discussed, and their implications for the rehabilitative process explored. This data will allow us to further understand the physiology of cold stunning and supports broader conservation efforts of sea turtles along the northeastern US coastline. 
 

'Emerging Seal Trends in Delaware' : Gray Seal Colony and Pupping Data

  • Jessica Meyer-Author, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

  • Suzanne Thurman, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

 

Dating back to as early as the 1800s, seals have been reported off the coast of Delaware during winter months, having traveled south from New England colonies.  Over the last decade, the MERR Institute has been monitoring an emerging grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) colony off the coast of Lewes, and has discovered a rise in pupping activity in this location. The correlation between changes in the resident seal colony and environmental shifts, as well as increased boat and tourist traffic, is under investigation.  Through observatory boat surveys, MERR staff and volunteers are examining seal population numbers, species, behavior, age, location, and weather and environmental patterns.  These surveys allow for investigation into important trend changes over time, and track how the colony is affected by changes in the surrounding environment.  This poster will illustrate population survey data and colony composition.  

Stranded animals are wild: Collaborative science to understand the health and ecology of pinniped populations in the Northwest Atlantic

  • Kimberly Murray, NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, MA

  • Andrea Bogomolni, Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium

  • Robert DiGiovanni Jr., Atlantic Marine Conservation Society; Hampton Bays, NY

  • Monica DeAngelis, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Newport, RI

  • Lynda Doughty, Marine Mammals of Maine; Brunswick, ME

  • Wendy Puryear, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts Univ; North Grafton, MA

  • Kat Rose, International Fund for Animal Welfare; Yarmouth, MA

  • Jon Runstadler, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts Univ; North Grafton, MA

  • Lisa Sette, Center for Coastal Studies; Provincetown, MA

  • Brian Sharp, International Fund for Animal Welfare; Yarmouth, MA

  • Sarah Sharp, International Fund for Animal Welfare; Yarmouth, MA

 

The aim of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Seal Ecology and Assessment Program is to provide scientific information to managers and stakeholders on the role of seals as important sentinels of the marine ecosystem, to support conservation efforts to maintain a healthy and optimally stable population of seals in the northeast, and to provide recommendations on mitigation measures to minimize conflicts between seals and humans. Stranding network members are an integral part of the research conducted by the NEFSC and many collaborate as co-Principal-Investigators under the NEFSC’s MMPA research permit. Key components of the Seal Program at the NEFSC include investigating health and disease of pinniped stocks in the Northwest Atlantic, studying movements, behavior and habitat use of individuals, and quantifying mortality and serious injuries from interactions with commercial fisheries, including bycatch. This presentation will highlight some of the collaborative research between stranding network partners and the NEFSC in regards to these 3 research themes, and emphasize that the study of “stranded” animals provides insight to the health and recovery of the larger wild population.  
 

A chronic problem: A 20-year summary of confirmed pinniped entanglement cases on Cape Cod, Massachusetts

  • Misty E. Niemeyer, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Olivia C. Guerra, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Kira Kasper, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Kristen M. Volker, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Lauren A. Cooley, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Sarah M. Sharp, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Nicole E. Hunter, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Kathryn S.  Rose, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Michael J. Moore, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA USA and International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • Jane M. Hoppe, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA 

  • Kristen M. Patchett, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

  • W. Brian Sharp, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA, USA

 

Entanglements and their associated injuries are one of the leading anthropogenic causes of stranding and death for pinnipeds on Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts.  Over the past 20 years (1999-2018), 156 confirmed cases of entangled pinnipeds have been responded to in this region.  Of the 111 cases that had gear present, the majority (n=80) involved neck entanglement in monofilament netting.  This type of entanglement is consistent with active gillnet fisheries due to entanglement configuration, prevalence of year-round fisheries and lack of gear fouling.  Other entangling material included fishing weirs (n=4), trap/pot gear (n=7), trawl netting (n=2), other fisheries gear (n=5), marine debris (n=7), and uncategorized (n=4).  The majority of these cases were gray seals (n=129), but harbor and harp seals were also affected.  Out of the 76 live cases, 63% (n=48) were successfully disentangled and either transferred to a rehabilitation facility or treated and released.  Due to the extent of the entanglement-related injuries, 5 seals died and 3 were humanely euthanized.  Over half the cases were reported dead (n=83), including 43 with gear present.  Necropsies were conducted whenever logistics and carcass decomposition permitted (n=47).  Significant necropsy findings in cases with chronic circumferential constricting monofilament net entanglements around the neck included severe lacerations, embedded line, sepsis, and poor body condition.    The severity of these injuries highlights the serious animal welfare concern that entanglements represent for pinnipeds.  Future work should focus on the need to further understand where and how these entanglements occur in an effort to prevent them through mitigation measures. 

Medical and Surgical Management of a Linear Foreign Body in a Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

  • Sarah Perez, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Adam Kennedy, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Linda Lory, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MASarah DiCarlo, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Alessia Brugnara, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Kristen Luise, New England Aquarium, Rescue and Rehabilitation, Quincy, MA

  • Charles Innis, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

  • Melissa Joblon, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

  • Kathryn Tuxbury, New England Aquarium, Animal Health Department, Boston, MA

 

A male juvenile Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtle stranded cold-stunned on November 30th, 2021 on Ellis Beach in Brewster, Massachusetts. Upon intake at the New England Aquarium Quincy Animal Care Center, 21-0300-Lk (Star Anise) presented with ribbon approximately 41 cm in length protruding from his oral cavity and 122 cm of ribbon and balloon protruding from the cloaca. During the initial intake exam, the ribbon and balloon were removed by cutting only the exposed section. The turtle was stabilized, placed on antibiotics, and iron dextran for anemia. On December 8th, 2021, the turtle underwent an exploratory coeliotomy for removal of the remaining ribbon. Approximately 72 cm of ribbon was surgically excised from the intestines. The foreign body recovered from Star Anise was 236 cm (about 7.74 ft) long. After 147 days in rehabilitation Star Anise was released on April 25, 2022, in North Carolina. 

Utilizing volunteers to support response efforts of sea turtles and marine mammals while enhancing community outreach in New York.

 

The aim of this project was to attract and train an integrated team of volunteers that would implement an efficient response and education program for New York sea turtles and marine mammals. The New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) strives to decrease on-site response time, as well as increase the survival rate of patients through the creation of a widespread and rapid monitoring and education program for all sea turtle and seal patients. Long Island is among the most densely populated regions of New York State accounting for approximately 40% of the population. Due to this vast population, there is a large overlap between marine animals and human population leading to an increase in human interaction (HI). Through our citizen science programs, NYMRC has utilized volunteers to enhance our response efforts for sea turtles and seals, as well as increase overall community outreach.

In 2017, NYMRC launched its Citizen Science Cold Stun patrolling team which has tripled in size since inception. Members of the public are trained by NYMRC to monitor beaches and find cold-stunned sea turtles. This program has helped save critical sea turtles over the last 6 years as well as increased public awareness of sea turtles. In 2020, NYMRC launched the Seal Patrol Team where the main goal is to educate the public about seals, assess the animal's condition and behavior, and reduce incidents of human interaction. Both programs have improved our response effort and increased the success rate for stranded sea turtles and seals. 
 

A Closer Look at HPAI In Marine Mammals to Assess Contributing Factors for Viral Spillover

  • Wendy Puryear, Cummings School of Vet Medicine at Tufts Univ; North Grafton, MA

  • Kaitlin Sawatzki, Cummings School of Vet Medicine at Tufts Univ; North Grafton, MA

  • Alexa Foss, Cummings School of Vet Medicine at Tufts Univ; North Grafton, MA

  • Nichola Hill, University of Massachusetts Boston; Boston, MA

  • Lynda Doughty, Marine Mammals of Maine; Brunswick, ME

  • Dominique Walk, Marine Mammals of Maine; Brunswick, ME

  • Katie Gilbert, Marine Mammals of Maine; Brunswick, ME

  • Rosemary Seton, College of the Atlantic; Bar Harbor, ME

  • Ashley Stokes, Seacoast Science Center, Rye, NH

  • Lisa Becker, National Marine Life Center, Bourne, MA

  • Nicole Hunter, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouth Port, MA

  • Margot Madden, National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

  • Allison Tuttle, Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT

  • Stephen St. Pierre, Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, Nantucket, MA

  • Milton Levin, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

  • Belinda Rubinstein, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA

  • Kimberly Murray, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center; Woods Hole, MA

  • Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Atlantic Marine Conservation Society; Hampton Bays, NY

  • Ainsley Smith, NOAA Protected Res Div, Ntl Marine Fisheries Service; Gloucester, MA

  • Meredith Moise, Integrated Statistics for NOAA Fisheries, Gloucester, MA

  • Maureen Murray, Tufts Wildlife Clinic, Cummings School Vet Med; North Grafton, MA

  • Elena Cox, Tufts Wildlife Clinic, Cummings School Vet Med Tufts; North Grafton, MA

  • Priya Patel, New England Wildlife Centers; Barnstable, MA

  • Stephanie Ellis, Wild Care, Inc.; Eastham, MA

  • Yvonne Vaillancourt, UMass Boston, Nantucket Field Station, Nantucket, MA

  • Jonathan Runstadler, Cummings School of Vet Medicine at Tufts; North Grafton, MA

 

Diverse subtypes of influenza virus circulate globally within wild birds, primarily waterfowl and seabirds. Influenza has also been documented in marine mammals for over 50 years, being linked to both unusual mortality events and asymptomatic or mild infection. Historically, the majority of influenza in pinnipeds has occurred in the Northwest Atlantic and has been observed primarily in harbor seals and to a lesser extent in grey seals. In the summer of 2022, High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) entered North America via seabirds and spilled into pinnipeds in Maine and the St. Lawrence Estuary, again impacting primarily harbor seals and to a lesser extent grey seals. To date, all instances of influenza within marine mammals, regardless of severity, have traced back to waterfowl and seabirds. However, the factors that influence when, where, and how influenza crosses the species barrier from wild birds to marine mammals is not well understood.

Analysis of viral sequences obtained from both seals and wild birds helps to define how interspecies transmission may occur. Transmission dynamics can also be better understood through an analysis of temporal and spatial overlap of sympatric species, coupled with knowledge of known avian hosts for influenza and the dynamics of viral shedding. Here we perform a regional analysis of viral sequence, spatiotemporal overlap of species, and seroprevalence in pinnipeds, to define key factors that may impact spillover of influenza into marine mammals. Insights gained here may help to predict where novel spillover events may occur. 
 

Analysis of Internal Marine Debris in the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Database

 

The aim of this project was to attract and train an integrated team of volunteers that would implement an efficient response and education program for New York sea turtles and marine mammals. The New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC) strives to decrease on-site response time, as well as increase the survival rate of patients through the creation of a widespread and rapid monitoring and education program for all sea turtle and seal patients. Long Island is among the most densely populated regions of New York State accounting for approximately 40% of the population. Due to this vast population, there is a large overlap between marine animals and human population leading to an increase in human interaction (HI). Through our citizen science programs, NYMRC has utilized volunteers to enhance our response efforts for sea turtles and seals, as well as increase overall community outreach.

In 2017, NYMRC launched its Citizen Science Cold Stun patrolling team which has tripled in size since inception. Members of the public are trained by NYMRC to monitor beaches and find cold-stunned sea turtles. This program has helped save critical sea turtles over the last 6 years as well as increased public awareness of sea turtles. In 2020, NYMRC launched the Seal Patrol Team where the main goal is to educate the public about seals, assess the animal's condition and behavior, and reduce incidents of human interaction. Both programs have improved our response effort and increased the success rate for stranded sea turtles and seals. 
 

Pinniped Triage on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast

  • Kate Shaffer, Stranding Response & Triage Manager, National Aquarium, Animal Rescue, Ocean City, MD

  • Jennifer Dittmar, Director of Animal Rescue, National Aquarium, Animal Rescue, Baltimore, MD

 

To better serve pinnipeds that strand along Maryland’s Atlantic coast and beyond, the National Aquarium will be adding triage operations to their Animal Rescue services. In conjunction with the Town of Ocean City, the Aquarium has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to lease a property within the town’s municipal complex that will be the location for triage operations for the next 5 years. The location includes office space for staff, plus a separate area designed and outfitted for animal holding and treatments. The triage location will allow staff to conduct point-of-stranding diagnostic testing and stabilization for pinnipeds, with the goal of improving animal welfare and survival. The National Aquarium’s primary rehabilitation facility is in Baltimore, Maryland; Baltimore is a 3-hour drive from the Atlantic coast of Maryland, where the majority of pinnipeds strand within the state. The new triage facility will provide temperature-controlled accommodations for patients to receive initial care, stabilize them for lengthy transports to long term rehabilitation, and will fill a critical need within the Greater Atlantic Region for short-term stabilization and holding of pinnipeds. 
 

Development of an Innovative Cetacean Intensive Care Unit on Cape Cod, MAW

  • Brian Sharp, Director, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, IFAW, Yarmouth Port, MA

  • Misty E. Niemeyer, Stranding Coordinator, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, IFAW, Yarmouth Port, MA

  • Jonathan D. Picard, Rehabilitation Coordinator, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, IFAW, Yarmouth Port, MA

  • Sarah M. Sharp, Veterinarian, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, IFAW, Yarmouth Port, MA

 

Twenty-five percent of live cetacean strandings in the US occur in southeastern Massachusetts. Cape Cod, in particular has the highest frequency of cetacean mass strandings in the world. In a recent 5-year period (2017-2021) IFAW responded to 403 live stranded cetaceans (~80/year). Since there are no cetacean rehabilitation facilities north of Florida, the IFAW team has developed a response paradigm that treats animals in the field while evaluating them as best as possible to determine the best course of action (relocate and release immediately or euthanize). However, a subset of stranded dolphins and porpoises present with more significant conditions caused by the stranding event itself, which cannot be adequately treated with field response alone. To have an increased chance of post-release survival, these animals require additional diagnostics and treatments that can only be provided through an extended course of care. In order to address this need, IFAW developed an innovative Cetacean Intensive Care Unit (CICU). The primary goal of CICU is to improve survival of live stranded small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoise) through the provision of short term (<96 hour) intensive care prior to release. With a secondary goal of increasing capacity for cetacean stranding response regionally, nationally and internationally, CICU will also provide opportunities for stranding professionals to gain critical training on stranded cetacean procedures and protocols. An overview of the program’s goals and objectives will be presented along with an update on current status. 

Emerging Trends in Gray Seal Populations in Delaware

  • Zeal Goolesby, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

  • Suzanne Thurman, Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, Lewes, Delaware 

 

The historical presence of large seal populations along the Delaware coast harkens back to the 1800’s but has ebbed and flowed over time.  An establishing seasonal colony of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) over the past decade, and the subsequent seal pupping activity that has emerged are novelle occurrences for coastal Delaware in recent times.  Our research is utilizing vessel-based surveys to provide greater insights into the colony’s population density, species dynamics, seasonality of the colony, pupping activity, morbidity and health indicators, and geo-spatial distribution utilizing Seal Codex for photo identification purposes.  Our research will also investigate the potential impacts of increased vessel traffic near the colony due to seal-watching tours that have cropped up in the past year.

Measuring progesterone levels in a female humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) baleen

  • Shreya Vinodh - College of the Atlantic, ME 04609, USA

  • Rachel Rice - College of the Atlantic, ME 04609, USA

  • Natasha Pastor - College of the Atlantic, ME 04609, USAJooke Robbins - Provincetown Center for Coastal
    Studies, MA 02657, USA

  • Sean Todd - College of the Atlantic, ME 04609, USA

 

Progesterone levels in pregnant humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are poorly understood. When known, researchers can better assess pregnancy rates—both successful and unsuccessful—and inter-calving intervals, since the only reliable indicator of pregnancy currently is the female’s association with a calf in the following year. As mysticetes, humpback whales have a unique feeding apparatus known as baleen. This keratinous tissue is deposited incrementally by year—its composition includes measurable levels of progesterone. Thus, baleen has the potential to act as a historical record of progesterone levels. Since progesterone plays a vital role in preparing the body for pregnancy and maintaining pregnancy, we hypothesized that we could identify past pregnancies by the presence of unusual yearly spikes in progesterone levels measurable in baleen. In this study, we quantified post-mortem baleen progesterone in pg/mL in a female humpback whale, and identified a spike in progesterone that correlated with the sighting of an associated calf in the following year, 2017. Further, using stable isotope analysis, we estimated baleen growth rate to be 16cm/yr, allowing us to examine three years prior to the animal’s death. For those three years, this was the only pregnancy, confirmed by progesterone levels and sighting record.

Immediate Release Criteria – Identifying and Releasing Otherwise Healthy Hooked Sea Turtles 

  • Chelsea Witherup, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response, Virginia Beach, VA

  • Erin Bates, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response, Virginia Beach, VA

  • Ally McNaughton, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response, Virginia Beach, VA

  • Susan Barco, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response & Barco Marine Consulting, Virginia Beach, VA

The Immediate Release Criteria (IRC) are a set of veterinary approved criteria instituted in 2017 in an attempt to offset the increased sea turtle rehabilitation burden since the start of the Pier Partner Program in Virginia. The goal of this criteria was to identify presumptive otherwise healthy sea turtles incidentally caught on recreational fishing line versus those that needed extended time in rehabilitation (i.e., extensive manipulation for hook removal and/or sedation, further diagnostics/veterinary assessments). Each sea turtle that was recovered was examined at admit and either met criteria for immediate release or needed further diagnostics to determine health status. Turtles that were considered as having met IRC were then released within 72 hours of admit.

The criteria were originally established using accepted published and historic local data. Each year the data from the previous year were analyzed and revisions to the criteria were made prior to the next hook season. Revisions were made each year between 2018 and 2021, with no revisions made in 2022. The most significant revisions were the addition of a tiered system in 2018 and primary and secondary criteria in 2021 to streamline diagnostics and more accurately capture health status. 

During 2017, the first year of implementation of the IRC, only 3% of hooked sea turtles were released within 72 hours. After the significant revisions in 2018 and 2021, 17% were released within 72 hours each of those years. In 2022, admit numbers grew to a record 60 hooked sea turtle patients and 28% were released within 72 hours of admit.
 

Applications of Delphinid Vitreous Humor Biochemical Analysis for Stranding Response Organizations

  • Tiffany Zorotrian, MSc, LVT, Department of Comparative, Diagnostic, and Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

  • Adam W. Stern, DVM, DACVP, Department of Comparative, Diagnostic, and Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 

  • Hanzhi Gao, MS, PhD, Department of Biostatistics, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 

  • Alexander Costidis, PhD, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach, Virginia  

  • Christine Fontaine, MSc, Conservation Medicine and Science, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach, California  

  • Alissa Deming, MS, DVM, PhD, Conservation Medicine and Science, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach, California 

  • Craig Harms, DVM, PhD, DACZM, Department of Clinical Sciences and Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Morehead City, North Carolina  Hayley R. Adams, DVM, PhD, DACVPM, DACVM, Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

Biochemical analysis of vitreous humor (VH) has several forensic applications, including estimation of postmortem interval (PMI) and as proxy for select antemortem serum analytes. Estimation of PMI from VH analytes has potential to be a valuable forensic tool for marine mammal strandings, as time of death is essential to provide spatial and temporal context for anthropogenic interactions. Little work has been done on VH biochemistry in cetaceans due in part to a paucity of appropriate cases and relatively high cost of analysis. The Abaxis VetScan VS2 (VetScan) chemistry analyzer is inexpensive and requires low sample volume (100 µl), making VH analysis more accessible for organizations with limited resources. To investigate the utility of VH biochemistry in stranded delphinids, paired antemortem serum/plasma and postmortem VH samples (n=10) were analyzed on the UF Clinical Pathology Lab’s Beckman Coulter AU480. Results were assessed via a Wilcoxon signed-rank test and calculation of the intraclass correlation coefficient. To evaluate precision of the Vetscan on delphinid VH, pooled samples (n=12) of delphinid VH were serially analyzed and the between-run and within-run coefficient of variation calculated for each analyte. These results established precision of the VetScan for analysis of glucose, albumin, globulin, total protein, urea nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus in delphinid VH.  The combined data indicate that urea nitrogen, creatinine, glucose, and potassium can be informative in delphinid VH, and that documentation of time of sample collection in relation to time of death (when available) is critical to interpreting VH electrolytes and extrapolation of PMI.

thursday

THURSDAY, 9/30

9:45 - 10 am

Using handheld metal detectors to determine presence of fishing hooks in sea turtles

Sarah McCormack

10 - 10:15

Capturing, disentangling, and tracking the movements of sub-adult and adult male Stellar sea lions in Southeast Alaska

/Kim Raum-Suryan

10:15-10:30

Planning and Response to Increased Entanglement Cases of Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) and Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) in New Shoreham, RI

/Sarah Callan

10:30-10:45

Breaking down “harassment” to characterize trends in human interaction cases in Maine’s pinnipeds

/Emma Newcomb

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