2022 Recap: National Aquarium Animal Rescue

Another robust year of animal rescue success included the release of our 350th rehabilitated animal and an extended farewell to a spunky rescued seal.

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Playing in the Band

As autumn 2021 brought falling temperatures to the East Coast, our 2022 Animal Rescue season began as it almost always does: with the arrival of a symphony of cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from the rapidly cooling waters off Cape Cod. That's right! Our 2021-22 rescued turtle naming theme was musical instruments, and in short order, turtles nicknamed Harmonica, Fiddle, Bassoon, Banjo and more were "playing" together off exhibit in our Pier 3 rescue pools.

This 2021-22 class of 30 rescued turtles included 26 Kemp's ridley sea turtles and four green sea turtles, all exhibiting symptoms typical of cold stunning—a hypothermic-like state that renders turtles lethargic and unable to control their buoyancy and direction. These issues lead to malnutrition and dehydration while leaving turtles especially vulnerable to infections and injuries from boat strikes and predators.

Aquarium Rescue Staffer Kate Shaffer Releases Rescued Green Sea Turtle Trumpet at Cape Canaveral, Florida Shoreline
Aquarium Stranding Response and Triage Manager Kate Shaffer releases a rescued green sea turtle named Trumpet at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Thanks to the individualized treatment provided by our Animal Health and Rescue teams, 15 of these turtles—13 Kemp's ridley and two green sea turtles—were recovered and ready to return to their ocean home by early March 2022 when our team made the long drive to Florida to release Piccolo, Trumpet, Viola, Kazoo, Harp, Xylophone, Fiddle, Maraca, Harmonica, Clarinet, Flute, Castanets, Bongo, Banjo and Coronet back to warm, salty waters. Coronet's case highlighted the urgency of keeping plastic pollution out of our waterways—his survival was threatened by plastic debris he ingested before his rescue and successfully passed while in our care.

Eleven more turtles—nine Kemp's ridley and the two remaining green sea turtles including Tuba, Trombone, Ukulele, Bell, Oboe, Didgeridoo, Tambourine, Triangle, Guitar and Saxophone—required a little additional TLC. They made up our second release group of the season, returning to the sea off the coast of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina on April 27, 2022. Within this batch of rehab successes, we celebrated the release of our 350th rescued animal, a milestone in the making since we began treating rescued sea turtles and marine mammals in 1991.

Then, on August 18, Cello and Bassoon, two sea turtles requiring more extended care, made up our final release of the year—and our first public release since before the COVID-19 pandemic—at Assateague State Park on August 18. Bassoon, a Kemp's ridley, was a particularly fascinating patient. In addition to common cold-stunning symptoms, he arrived in our care unable to open his jaw to eat due to muscle inflammation. While he initially received IV fluids and nutrients to regain his strength, he required an innovative treatment plan that included acupuncture and physical therapy to stretch and loosen his jaw muscles while relieving pain and inflammation. Because his case was complex, Bassoon remained with us until he was able to eat and forage independently, a success we celebrated with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen who took part in the release of Bassoon and Cello.

Federal Support for Sea Turtles

Senator Van Hollen is not only good to have around for turtle lifting; he is also a leading Congressional champion for increasing federal support for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation. Thanks to Senator Van Hollen's leadership, for the first time ever, the federal budget includes direct funding to support organizations like the National Aquarium that undertake the painstaking and expensive process of responding to and rehabilitating endangered sea turtles.

Senator Van Hollen is also a proud cosponsor of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, a critical piece of bipartisan legislation, introduced to Congress by U.S. Representative William Keating and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, that would create a permanent grant program to support sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation. The bill, which the National Aquarium helped draft, was unanimously passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee this year. The National Aquarium looks forward to working with more than 50 organizations across the country and dozens of Congressional supporters to build on this year's momentum and pass the bill during Congress' next term.

"The National Aquarium has rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles for over three decades, but over half our patients have come in over the last eight years," said National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli. "The science suggests that sea turtle strandings are only going to increase in the years ahead, along with the costs of rescuing, caring for and releasing them. Absent sustained and direct federal funding, it is unclear how long nonprofit first responders like us can continue to provide this service to the nation."

You can add your voice by contacting your U.S. senators and representative and asking they support the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act. After all, Glockenspiel still needs you! As the final remaining member of the rescue class of 2021-22, juvenile loggerhead Glockenspiel—who joined us in August 2022 in debilitated condition after being rescued from the Chesapeake Bay—has not yet been medically cleared for release. He's slowly recovering from pneumonia and learning to forage independently for food.

Louis Armstrong's Summer Adventure

This year's seal rescue season wasn't as crowded as some, but one very feisty grey seal pup kept our team on their toes. Arriving in February after stranding on the beach of Assateague Island, Louis Armstrong—nicknamed in keeping with our musicians theme—was less than 2 months old and weighed a mere 35 pounds. A seal pup that age should still be maternally dependent, so our Animal Rescue and Health staff became responsible for raising Louis. This meant not only overcoming the symptoms and injuries sustained before his arrival, including wounds to his face and flipper as well as severe dehydration and malnutrition, but also teaching him to swim, feed himself and survive independently.

Despite early difficulty eating and gaining weight, Louis grew to a robust 75 pounds in the care of our team while overcoming infection and mastering the art of foraging for his own food and catching live fish, just as he will need to in the ocean.

Eastern Seaboard Map Tracking Rescued Seal Louis Armstrong's Satellite Locations from Lewes, DE to Atlantic City, NJ to Long Island, NY and Finally, Nantucket, MA Over His First 15 Days Post-Release

Louis was released on Friday, June 3, at Assateague Island National Seashore where his story with us began. He was outfitted with a non-invasive, temporary satellite tag that sent us readings of his depth and location as he moved along a natural summer migration path. These metrics not only assured us that Louis was doing well, they also offered insight into the migration and rookery habits of seals in our region. Watching Louis's movement up the East Coast shown on the map above became a favorite summer pastime of ours. Until his satellite tag fell off as expected with his summer molt, we were afforded the satisfaction of seeing a healthy, independent Louis enjoy a very active summer.

Seal stranding season lasts from early winter through May in the mid-Atlantic. Remember, should you should you encounter a seal on the beach, it may not be sick, only resting. If you do see a seal, do not touch or approach it, and keep a distance of 150 feet—about the length of three school buses. Please note your location and time of day and immediately contact the National Aquarium's Stranded Animal Hotline at 410-576-3880.

A Rescued Sea Turtle Gets Measured During Intake Triage
A rescued sea turtle gets its carapace measured during intake triage at the National Aquarium.

Beginning Again

Just a few weeks ago on November 30, 2022, we kicked off our upcoming 2022-23 rescue season with the arrival of 26 sea turtles—13 Kemp's ridleys and 13 green sea turtles. Upon further examination here at the National Aquarium, all 26 animals exhibited similar symptoms commonly associated with cold stunning just like last year's rescue class but, unfortunately, one patient was too acutely impacted and passed away shortly after arriving. For the remaining 25, we're extending warm wishes—literally—by naming these turtles after popular beach destinations around the world. Stay tuned for updates about the rehabilitation and release of these turtles as we get to know them and work to return them swiftly to their ocean home in the new year.

The National Aquarium's Animal Rescue program is responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the nearly 3,190 miles of Maryland coast and works with stranding partners through the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network to help respond to, rescue and release animals year-round.

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