Brittany’s Internship Week 1

Cape Wildlife Center

This week was VERY  busy. I started on Monday morning; got the tour of the Discovery center, the hospital and the rest of the building. I met the patients we had at the time, which consisted of Teanna (a Diamondback Terrapin), Catch 22 (a Red-Bellied Cooter) and the 8 Hatchlings that we received through the  Head-Start program that the state created to give the baby Cooters a fighting chance.

Teanna during rounds

It’s actually a really cool program; State officials go to known nesting areas for the RBC’s and collect about 1/2 the eggs in the nest. They distribute the eggs to different organizations and schools to raise the hatchlings from about the size of a quarter to at least the minimum required size by the state.This program gives these endangered turtles a”head-start” allowing them to grow to a size where they will be less effected by predation. Normally these turtles in the wild would burrow into the mud during the cold months and stay almost in a dormant stage until the weather is warm enough for them to survive. But because they are dormant they aren’t able to eat and grow during this period to be large enough defend themselves from predators.

Anyway, back to this week’s events, we got the run down of how to change the water in the different turtle tanks. After we had shadowed the other volunteers, Kate informed all of the interns that a baby bird had fallen out of  its nest which was too high up for it to be placed back in the nest so both Brie and Brian took the bird to the Cape Wildlife facility in Barnstable, MA. When they got back we helped out with the Daisy Girl Scout troops that came to the Discovery Center. Kathy explained all of the exhibits to the children. She talked about the differences between baleen and toothed whales, as well as the differences between seals and sea lions; dolphins, porpoises etc. The girls and their troop leaders then got the grand tour of the facility and the hospital. Then we helped out with some of the educational activities, which consisted of the blubber-glove and the tooth vs. baleen whales.

Tuesday: I came in early to observe the Mass Maritime Cadets doing the water quality. They collected samples from all the different tanks and the pump house. Then we watched rounds that were preformed on the different patients; Catch 22, Teanna, and the Hatchlings. It was cool to watch the different procedures, and Rogers the active veterinarian at the facility was very good at explaining everything that he was doing as well as answering  questions we had about what was going on.

Kate, Andy and Rogers doing rounds, checking to see the Catch 22 is in good health. (Photo Credit: Brie Myre)

Wednesday: We collected different organisms to put in the critter tank in the Discovery Center. I was definitely in my element, this is one of my FAVORITE things to do; just go along the beach picking up shells and difference marine organisms and identifying them. We started off at Onset Beach, we spent a good two or three hours just combing the beach looking at everything. We collected a ton of periwinkles, quahogs, whelks, mussels (blue and ribbed), hermit crabs, Asian Shore Crabs, as well as different types of shrimp that were just swimming in the water. We also collected a lot of shells to put in the beachcombing table in the Discovery Center  like scallop shells, jingle shells, slipper snail shells, pieces of broken whelk shells, etc. We also saw the broken remains of horseshoe crabs which was really cool, but it would have been better if we found live ones. After we felt we had collected a sufficient amount of organisms we headed back to the center but along the  way we stopped near Mass Maritime to check out the differences between the  two beaches. We found a few more interesting species at this beach. In the seaweed I discovered a green crab that was a really good size and decided to add him to our other friends for the critter tank. We also found a live moon snail and a TON of fish. After chasing after the fish for what seemed like forever, we just stood still and they started to ram themselves into our feet. We collected the Fish by the net full but decided to only take three of these mysterious tiny fish back to the tank.

Collecting Shrimp at Onset Beach (Photo Credit: Brie Myre)

Thursday: This was a sad and exciting day. We had to turn in the eight Red-Bellied Cooters back to the state. There was a meeting to discuss how the process was working, the different approaches that worked and didn’t to help with the program for next year. It was very educational and a good learning experience, a lot of these different organizations and schools had different ways of taking care of their Cooters, but at the same time there were similarities. It was really interesting to see how the turtle hatchlings were “cataloged” is the best way to describe the process. It was an assembly line, naming off the facility where the turtle was raised, each turtle was assigned a number which was filed into their scutes (the scales on the turtle’s shell are called scutes). There is a specific numbering system, the shell is split up into four different quadrants (1000’s, 100’s, 10’s and 1’s) and each scute represents a certain number.

The turtle marking process, putting notches in certain scutes so the Cooters will be identifiable in the wild

For example, if a turtle was assigned the number 1395, then the top right quadrant was the thousand’s place so you mark the first scute, then in the top left quadrant the third scute (moving in a counter-clockwise direction) is marked. The next number is a little trickier because in each section there are only about five scutes so 9 would be represented by marking the 4th and 5th scute, and finally the 5th scute is marked in the bottom right quadrant. Then the turtle is passed down the line to get its measurements taken, the length of both the plastron ( the underside of the turtle shell) and the carapace (the top side of the shell) was taken from notch to notch. The weight was then recorded and then they were placed in the appropriate box to be released. This process was carried out for all of the turtles that were dropped off that day and the data would be saved and recorded to be given back to the state to place in their records. Unfortunately when we turned in our turtles we received three deformed turtles. Their shells were majorly deformed into almost mountainous shapes in a pattern called pyramiding. As we later found when Rogers was doing the patient rounds, the turtles suffer from metabolic bone disease which is most likely caused by malnutrition and just abnormal diet, not receiving the nutrients and calcium levels that are needed for proper growth and bone formation. The poor little guys could barely move and swim, and their back legs seem like there weren’t even any bones formed, just Jello. But after we cleaned out the tank from the previous hatchlings, we set up the tank for out three new patients. Then later that night we had our annual meeting  for the National Marine Life Center. We got to see the behind the scenes people that keep this place up and running in addition to Kathy, Kate and Adele.

Friday: The Big Day! We drove up to see the release of the Cooters. There were so many people there who had either helped raise these turtles or just wanted to participate in the release. It was very exciting to see so many people passionate about gaining information about this endangered species as well as seeing them go on their way into the wild to hopefully increase the population and hopefully get this species off the Endangered Species List. I did hear that a possible reason that the hatchlings were released in Hanson instead of Middleboro this year  was because the capacity for the Cooters had been reached for that particular area. Which to me sounds like a very good thing, meaning that there are enough turtles in that area so we can move on to try and boost the population in different areas since the previous one is sustainable. It was cute to see all of the little kids helping with the release, putting the turtles in the water and watching them swim away. Luckily there were enough turtles for my fellow interns and I to release the Cooters as well. In total there were about 120 or so turtles released that day. In addition to watching/helping  with the release, we had also set up a booth to educate the public about our facility and just about marine animals in general. This was our first experience working a festival and interacting with the public. It was fun! When we got back we put together materials for the 5k Race on Sunday. We folded the running shirts and loaded envelopes for the runners with lots of fun goodies. We packed just about 200+ packets for the runners, which is a really good turn out!

Releasing one of the Red-Bellied Cooters (Photo Credit: Kate Shaffer)

Sunday: The day of the “Feet, Fins and Flippers NMLC 5K” run. We arrived to help setting up for the race just before 8am, this consisted of setting up water stations, and arrows along the course. As well as the booth to talk about the center, registration booths and all kinds of fun stuff. We sold raffles tickets and helped the runners set up for the race. The Jazzercise table was also set up behind our booth on the lawn which got everyone pumped up and dancing before the race to get the blood flowing. As soon as the race started we had to quickly run over to the end of the race and set up there. I couldn’t believe how fast the runners were! just only a few minutes after we arrived at the finish line (by car mind you) and set up the first was right there! We did have a good turn out though, we surpassed our goal of at least 100 hundred runners by almost 200 hundred more runners! At the end we handed out prizes for the raffles and also the 1st through 3rd place metals for each age group which was pretty cool.

Photo Credit: Brie Myre
Brie and I at the Feet Fins and Flippers 5k Race with a couple of the runners (Photo Credit: Brie Myre)

That’s pretty much the whole week in a nutshell, jam-packed with events, crazy and hectic, but fun none-the-less.

Posted by Brittany W.
Brittany is a Summer, 2011 Intern at the National Marine Life Center.