Over the past two years, three Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center staff from the Stranding Response Program were able to work collaboratively on a sea turtle capture and release project. They, along with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center of NOAA Fisheries, the Coonamesset Farm Foundation and the commercial scallop industry, worked to capture, assess and tag sea turtles offshore of mid-Atlantic states. The project was funded through the Sea Scallop Industry’s Research Set Aside program.
Data collected from this project will enhance the Virginia Aquarium’s own independent sea turtle research project. For this project, we used a dip net technique to capture loggerhead sea turtles resting on the surface after a dive. We deployed on two commercial scallop boats out of Barnegat Light, N.J., and steamed southeast 40-50 miles offshore. In 2011, we captured 25 turtles in five days and in 2012, we captured 30 turtles in four days. We measured each turtle and collected blood, skin, heart rate, respiration rate and scraped off critters attached to the shell (epibionts). Before release, each turtle received PIT, flipper and satellite tags. Stranding Response staff helped with all aspects of the process because of our expertise with processing and analyzing blood collected from the turtles.
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center recently received funds to try dip netting turtles off the Virginia coast from 2-to-20 miles offshore, so this valuable experience has been quite worthwhile for our staff. This work is being conducted under NOAA research permits #1576-7 and 13330 and the photographs were taken as part of contract #FFM7320-12-02265 to the Virginia Aquarium Foundation from NOAA/NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center.
Guest Blogger: Susan Barco, Virginia Aquarium Research Coordinator & Senior Scientist