Archive for March, 2010

Trumpeting Penguins at New England Aquarium

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

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Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) at NEAq 

The New England Aquarium (NEAq) in Boston offers a delightful display of penguins on its main level surrounding the large ocean tank.  Rockhopper penguins pictured above seem a tad theatrical with their gaudy golden tuffs and eye brows. 

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African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at NEAq

African penguins bellow raucous trumpet calls that drown out the buzz of visitors as they crowd around the exhibit.

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Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) at NEAq

The Turtle Journal’s favorite species is the little blue penguin.  They appear like tiny juveniles (but are full grown adults) and they lack the outlandish traits of the others.  Still, they’re simply adorable to our eyes.

Dueling Trombones in the Penguin Exhibit at NEAq

As noon approaches, penguins get restless and bellow powerful trombone blasts that capture the rapt attention of visitors and staff.

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African Penguins Receive Reward for Outstanding Performance

As the penguin performance winds down, staff climb into the exhibit to offer a fish treat.

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Oops!  Little Blue Penguin Forgot to Duck, So to Speak

Of course, there’s one downside to treats.  To coin a phrase, what goes in, must come out.  In the case of our favorite little blue penguin, it looks as though he forgot to duck!

For more information about penguins, check out Penguin facts on the New England Aquarium web site.

Battered by Storms and Waves, Outer Cape Suffers Significant Erosion

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Waves Rumble Ashore at Wellfleet’s Newcomb Hollow Ocean Beach

Late February and early March storms battered Outer Cape Cod causing substantial waterfront erosion on both ocean and bay sides.  Under bright sunshine on Saturday, the remnants of these storms still endured with breakers crashing along the nearly 30 mile Great Back Beach.  Enormous gouges have been ripped out of the towering Atlantic coastal sand banks.

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Scalloped Erosion at South Terminus of Indian Neck Sea Wall

On the bayside, erosion has been equally destructive.  At the south edge of the Indian Neck sea wall, “scalloping” has cut deeply into the bank and now threatens the wooden stairway.  Despite supposedly protective tidal fencing, trees have been ripped from the bank by the erosive force of winter storms and flood tides. 

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Continuous Winter Overwash Transforms Indian Neck Salt Marsh

Nearby, this winter’s continuous overwash of the foredune along Indian Neck’s Blackfish Creek shore has transformed the salt marsh habitat previously protected behind it.

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Winter Tides Threaten Terrapin Nesting Sites on Lieutenant Island’s Marsh Road 

Repeated storms and flood tides soften and threaten the extremely productive terrapin nesting sites along Marsh Road on Lieutenant Island’s south shore.  Tidal wrack has been strewn along the roadway and into abutting yards.  Turtle Journal has not previously seen such erosion in the last dozen years.

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Erosion of Lieutenant Island’s Meadow Avenue West

Tides similarly assaulted the roadway connecting the first (east) and second (west) islands with significant erosion and softening.

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Four Additional Pilot Whale Skeletons Exposed by Tidal Erosion

On the west shore of Lieutenant Island, four more pilot whale skeletons have extruded from the sand with winter battering.  See the earlier Turtle Journal posting, Whale Bones Rise from Sands of History, from late January 2010.

Spring Erupts in the Great White North!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

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Painted Turtles Basking in Marion’s Goldwitz Bog

Three solid days of open sunshine and 50º F midday temperatures enticed South Coast painted turtles to haul out of their winter hibernacula and to bask on warm rocks in Marion’s Goldwitz Bog.  While there are many potential signs of spring, nothing says springtime more powerfully than a basking painted turtle in early March.

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Spring Colors Blurred in Rising Water Vapor Transforms Nature to Monet

More than a dozen painted turtles clung to the radiating warmth of these rocks.

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Snow Cover Lingered through Sunday at the Bog

Just yesterday, the pathway to the Goldwitz Bog remained buried in a couple of inches of crunchy snow.  By this afternoon, snow had disappeared and turtles had re-appeared!

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Fiddler Crab in South Wellfleet Marsh

A sure sign of spring in the salt marsh systems of Outer Cape Cod is the resumption of activity by fiddler crabs.  As we patrolled the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area off Indian Neck, we found fiddler crabs scurrying beneath the winter Spartina patens and alternaflora.

Fiddler Crabs Resume Activity in Early March

The final precursor to spring is one that the Turtle Journal team detests.  Also resuming activity in the oozy marsh channel of the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area were congregations of mud snails.  While we have no objection to mud snails per se, they carry a parasite that transfers to human (READ: “our”) legs causing what is often described as “fisherman’s itch,” also know as schistosomiasis.  Unfortunately, mud snails and diamondback terrapins share the same oozy habitat.

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Mud Snails Congregate in Oozy Marsh Creeks

Welcome to Spring 2010!

Turtle Journal Sea Turtle Coverage Featured at New England Aquarium

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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The Turtle Journal Team traveled to the Boston waterfront to tour the New England Aquarium on Sunday.  We had been told by friends and associates that Turtle Journal coverage of sea turtle strandings on Cape Cod was featured in a new exhibit.  Last year Tony LaCasse, director of media relations and spokesperson for the aquarium, asked us for video footage of beach rescues of cold-stunned sea turtles.  While there’s lots of quality media coverage of medical treatment and rehabilitation, there’s very little material of actual field rescues … because one has to be on the spot when the discovery and rescue are made.  There’s no time to dawdle on the beach while camera crews respond to the rescue scene.  Cold-stunned turtles need immediate attention if they are to survive.

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Tiny Kemp’s Ridley Rescued by Turtle Journal Team

Fortunately for us, the Turtle Journal team totes cameras on our sea turtle patrols to document events as they occur.  For instance, integrated into the New England Aquarium documentary on the sea turtle stranding story is coverage of our rescue in fall 2008 of a tiny Kemp’s ridely sea turtle from a Brewster beach.  (See Tiny Kemp’s Ridley Rescued in Freezing Conditions and the accompanying video clip Rescuing Tiny Kemp’s Ridley.)  The report and photograph of this rescue appeared in the national newspaper, USA Today, on November 26th, 2008.

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Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse Delivers Rescued Turtle

More coverage of that rescue was included in the aquarium documentary with a clip of Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse delivering the tiny Kemp’s ridley to Wellfleet Bay for triage (see video Kemp’s Ridley Triage), as well as footage of the video clip, Triage to Treatment (Wellfleet to Boston), which highlights the ambulance ride from point-of-rescue at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to point-of-treatment at the New England Aquarium.

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Russ and Kerry Barton Recover Cold-Stunned Loggerhead

Another rescue highlighted in the New England Aquarium documentary was the recovery of a 60-pound loggerhead from Point of Rocks in Brewster by Russ and Kerry Barton in late November 2008.  The Bartons had donated to the National Marine Life Center auction at the 2008 Mermaid Ball to win the chance to patrol for sea turtles with the Turtle Journal team.  Their adventure was presented in the story,  Turtle World Turned Upside Down, and received front page coverage in local newspapers (Dozens of Cold-Stunned Turtles Wash Up).

We are delighted to contribute our original Turtle Journal material to the New England Aquarium documentary and exhibit.

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Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley in Rehab at New England Aquarium

And, besides, the visit to the New England Aquarium gave us a chance to visit with rescued turtles from the 2009 stranding season.

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Turtle Medical Charts for Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles

Once we … like turtle EMTs … rescue stranded, cold-stunned sea turtles from the Cape Cod Bay each fall and attempt to stabilize their condition for transport, they are dispatched as quickly as possible to the New England Aquarium for intensive medical care.  Many turtles remain at the aquarium for long-term rehabilitation until the following August when they can be safely returned to the ocean on the south side of Cape Cod to continue their interrupted journey southward.

Cold-Stunned Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles in Rehab

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are critically endangered with vastly diminished numbers.  Yet, because of their particular lifecycle behavior as juveniles, the overwhelming majority (~ 90%) of cold-stunned sea turtles in Cape Cod Bay are Kemp’s ridleys.  This fact is especially amazing considering that Rancho Nuevo, Mexico remains the predominant nesting grounds for this species, with some ridleys transplanted to and now nesting at Padre Island in southwest Texas.

Cold-Stunned Juvenile Green Sea Turtles in Rehab

Arguably, the most attractive of sea turtles are the greens.  This year yielded many juvenile green turtles in the fall cold-stunning event.  Numbers for stranded greens have been growing the last decade.

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Myrtle the (Adult Green Sea) Turtle in the Ocean Tank

Besides seeing how well our 2009 rescued turtles are doing, we love to re-visit our perennial favorites in the large, circular ocean tank.

Adult Sea Turtles in New England Aquarium Ocean Tank

We are amazed each visit by the excitement generated among aquarium visitors by the sight of the huge adult sea turtles in the circular ocean tank.  Kids and adults stare at large tropical fish; they gawk as speedy rays swim across the glass; they ooh in awe when the enormous sharks glide by.  But they truly come alive and bounce in joy whenever any sea turtle cruises into view.  “It’s a turtle.  Look.  Can you see it?  A Turtle!  Do you see the turtle?”  As if one could miss a 400-pound green sea turtle that fills the entire viewing glass and blocks the light with its massive frame.  The connection between people and turtles is a mystical, magical, marvelous wonder that knits them together in a way that advances the most profound and existential interests of both species.

Nobody Knows the Troubles — Bad Day on Outer Cape

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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Pickup Truck Stranded on Lieutenant Island Bridge

Outer Cape weather has been rugged this whole week. Wind-driven, non-stop snow/sleet/drizzle mix  pelted the Cape with little accumulation as temperatures hovered around freezing, day and night.  Massive wind-assisted tides tossed wrack high into the dunes and flooded bayside roads.  This workman tried to escape Lieutenant Island late Thursday afternoon, but got trapped between the causeway (right) and mainland road (left) as high tide violently gushed into the South Wellfleet marsh.

Flooded Lieutenant Island Bridge 

Unwilling to wait the two hours it would take for the tide to recede, the workman decided to brave the flooded roadway and drive his pickup through the high salt water.


The scene reminded me of the favorite summer past time of the South Wellfleet “tidefolk.”  As the tide rises, they go down to the Lieutenant Island Bridge and cheer the tourists as they commit autocide.  Nothing compares with watching a Mercedes SUV in a natural salt water car wash.

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Small 4-Foot Dolphin Carcass on Indian Neck

Continuing the bad day spell on Thursday, Turtle Journal discovered the carcass of a small, four-foot dolphin on Indian Neck.  This specimen had been thrust high into the marsh by storm-driven high tides.  We quickly alerted the Cape Cod Mammal Stranding Network at IFAW (hotline # 508-743-9548), and we sent them digital images via cell phone.

Scavenged Dolphin Carcass off Blackfish Creek

The dolphin washed ashore at the mouth of Blackfish Creek at the southern edge of the Indian Neck sea wall.  Predators had scavenged the carcass while it lay on the beach.