Brie’s Back at the NMLC for Spring Break!

Pierce and Vesuvius hang out while their tank is being cleaned.

Hey NMLC fans – just when you thought you’d finally gotten rid of me – I’m back for a visit! I’ve missed the NMLC so much the past few months I’ve been back home, that I saved up and got a plane ticket so that I could visit during my spring break. I’ve been out here since Sunday, and having the opportunity to catch up with the staff and the patients here has been no less than rejuvenating. I’ve been keeping really busy around here, and I’d just like to update you a little bit on what’s happening at the Center!

This morning I was able to help out by cleaning the tank of our three not-quite-so-little-anymore rehabilitated hatchlings. You may remember that last summer we took in three little red-bellied cooters, Bruce, Pierce, and Vesuvius, with metabolic bone disease. They had been kept as part of the Hatchling Head Start Program, but unfortunately developed severe shell and bone problems and needed additional treatment. These three turtles are particularly close to my heart because I was there when we got them in and I and the other summer 2011 interns were able to assist our veterinarian, Dr. Rogers, and our Animal Care Coordinator, Kate Shaffer, with their rehabilitation from day one. We set up the tank that they stayed in for the first several months; we were there for the intake exam. We actually were given 4 turtles to care for, but unfortunately, the smallest one was dead on arrival.

At first, it was actually pretty hard to tell if the little guys were alive, because they had such difficulty moving and had absolutely no energy. It seemed unlikely that they would be able to swim with such significant deformities. Luckily, they have surprised us when we tested their swimming abilities. They were much better at swimming than they were at walking – the bones in their legs were so weak that they couldn’t even support themselves to walk. I was able to help out with administering the oral calcium treatments to the turtles each day and assisting with animal veterinary exams and husbandry.

Bruce warming up under the heat lamp.

If you were to come into the Center today, you would see 3 completely different animals. They are voracious, eating 10 leaves of Romaine lettuce a day and swimming with vigor. When I left in August to return to my studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the prognosis for the little guys was still up in the air because they were still calcium deficient and it was unclear how their deformities would respond to the animals’ growth, and if they would be able to pass eggs if they turned out to be female. At this age, it’s not possible to determine the sex of the turtles. Because red-bellied cooters are an endangered species, every individual that we can release into the wild is valuable to the population; however, we don’t want to release turtles that aren’t able to reproduce. It so warms my heart to come back after a few months away to hear that they are scheduled for release this summer! The turtles have finally caught up with their calcium deficiency and are able to maintain acceptable blood calcium levels. They are completely off rehabilitative treatment and are just waiting for it to warm up enough for release. A year’s worth of diligent work and a smidgen of hope and it seems that these guys have made it!

I was also happy to meet our new patients, the class 2012 red-bellied cooter headstart program hatchlings as well as Sir Isaac Newton, our newest shell fungus patient. Otherwise, most of what I’ve been doing this week is enjoying helping out at the Center with odds and ends, cleaning a few tanks, helping out with a couple educational programs, running a few errands, and preparing for the Feet, Fins and Flippers 5K the NMLC is hosting in May (which you should sign up for if you are at all interested! Just click here!)

The NMLC’s CEO and President Kathy Zagzebski and I traveled up to Dartmouth yesterday to speak at the high school Marine Science Symposium, and I really enjoyed speaking to the kids a little bit about the value of internship experience in general and more specifically about what my internship at the NMLC has done for my career. We then did an interactive activity teaching the kids about how to measure sea turtles, seals and cetaceans, and I ran the seal station. While my real passion is sea turtles, my knowledge of seal strandings and biology grew exponentially last summer, and my experience in Dartmouth yesterday proved how much I have learned when I was able to jump right into presenting to students after listening to Kathy’s presentation on the marine animals of Cape Cod and the NMLC’s mission. What I think I liked the most about working at the symposium was talking to a couple students that are really interested in pursuing a career in marine science. I love thinking that just maybe something I said might have impacted someone to get involved or pursue their dream, as difficult as succeeding in this field may seem. (My other favorite thing was probably leading the students in an activity involving the kids carrying Kathy in a dolphin stretcher as part of a rescue training activity!)

I’m so fortunate that my timing allowed me to celebrate some major milestones in the lives of our wonderful staff and volunteers. I’m also excited about the prospect of going to Provincetown to see if we can find some Right Whales, which if you don’t know, just so happen to be the most endangered whale in the world. They are seen in this area feeding this time of year, so maybe they’ll be willing to make an appearance for me!
A scenic beach on Cape Cod.I can’t say enough how wonderful it’s been to be reunited with my dear friends from the National Marine Life Center this week. I mean it when I say that last summer was the best of my life thus far, and when I’m here, minutes from the ocean and surrounded by like-minded marine animal people, I feel so much closer to my dreams than I have anywhere else. Even just running down to the store to pick up lettuce for the turtles in the NMLC van gave me such a strong feeling of nostalgia, remembering the first summer I got out of my home state and found myself in the unique and wonderful place that is Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and began pursuing a dream that previously seemed so out of reach. The summer I realized that I could get into sea turtle conservation – it just means I have to work harder than the next guy. Thanks so much to the staff and volunteers of the NMLC for welcoming me back and giving me a new surge of inspiration, and of course, thanks again for the life-changing experience last summer. Not only did they take me in and help me grow, but they made me part of the NMLC family during my first extended stay away from home. I can’t thank them enough; they are great people with a great cause. Be on the look out for another blog or two from me before I head back to the Midwest!