Animal Rescue Update: Turtle Nest Excavated at Assateague

National Aquarium Animal Rescue staff recently joined the National Park Service (NPS) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) to excavate a loggerhead sea turtle nest at Assateague Island National Seashore.

loggerhead nest

The nest during excavation (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

The nest, laid on July 1, 2013, has been monitored by NPS staff for the past three months. While the typical incubation period for sea turtle nests south of North Carolina is approximately 60 to 70 days, northern sea turtle nests, such as those laid in Virginia, Maryland and even Delaware, are known to incubate for a longer period of time due to typically cooler temperatures.

After 110 days, this nest had not hatched and an excavation was planned for Friday, October 18. Excavation of nests is a standard practice to determine hatchling success and stage of development. During the excavation, the team collected detailed data such as depth and dimensions, temperature, as well as number of eggs in the nest.

temp reading in loggerhead nest

The excavation team taking a temperature reading (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

It was determined during the excavation that the turtles had not yet hatched, and there was still a possibility that the nest was viable. The eggs were carefully transferred to a transport container and brought back to our Animal Care Center for incubation.

loggerhead egg transport

Our Animal Rescue staff carefully placing the loggerhead eggs in a transport carrier (photo courtesy of National Park Service).

Our team is working closely with the Aquarium's senior herpetologists to carefully incubate and monitor the nest. We are slowly warming the nest in a temperature controlled, humid environment and should have the nest warmed to an ideal temperature within a week. Sea turtles are reptiles and are therefore sensitive to temperature changes, so the process must be done very slowly. While we have seen signs of a potentially viable nest, we are cautiously optimistic about the total number of live hatchlings that might emerge.

As you may recall, we experienced the first confirmed successful sea turtle nest in Maryland last year. Our team was ecstatic to hear that the lone surviving hatchling from that nest was released off the coast of North Carolina back in April!

This nest represents a larger joint initiative with our partners at NPS and MD DNR to plan for and respond to these events.

Stay tuned for more updates on the nest! 

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