Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bay Scientists Deploy Zombie Turtles

Zombie turtle ready for deployment
Researchers release 'Frankenturtles' into Chesapeake Bay
. . . Santos, a master's student in William & Mary's School of Marine Science at VIMS, is working with Kaplan to reduce sea turtle mortality by trying to pinpoint where the hundreds of dead loggerhead sea turtles that wash up on Chesapeake Bay beaches each summer may have succumbed. With that knowledge, researchers could hone in on likely causes of sea-turtle death, while wildlife authorities could map out safe zones for these imperiled marine reptiles. One of Kaplan's research specialties is the spatial management of marine ecosystems.

The pair's approach to the problem is ingenious if somewhat morbid: obtain dead sea turtles (from the Virginia Aquarium's Stranding Response Program), replace the turtles' inner organs with buoyant Styrofoam, "sew" their shells back together with zip ties, and then attach GPS units to track the path of the "Frankenturtles" as winds and currents disperse them from a mid-Bay release site.

"It might seem sort of gross, but it's a good way to reuse a dead turtle that would otherwise be buried," says Kaplan. "And hopefully, the deployment of our two Frankenturtles will ultimately help lower the number of turtle deaths in the future."

Santos explains that the team is actually releasing three different types of drifters: the two Frankenturtles, two wooden-Styrofoam turtle models, and a pair of bucket drifters. By observing how the wind differentially affects the highly buoyant, sail-like wooden models; the partly emergent Frankenturtles; and the mostly submerged buckets, the researchers hope to better understand how a wind-driven carcass might deviate from the more predictable current patterns traced by the Bay's surface waters. Sea turtles initially sink after dying, but quickly float back to the surface buoyed by gases from decomposing tissues.

"Our plan is to deploy the drifters on several different occasions—under a variety of wind and wave conditions—and in locations where mortality events could occur during the spring peak in strandings," says Santos. "We'll then use the separation rate between our bucket drifters, which closely track water movement, and our turtle carcasses to determine the amount of wind forcing to apply to simulated carcasses in our computer model."
Looks like a Leatherback Sea Turtle to me.
And then, right in the same issue of Chesapeake Bay links: Animal resembling sea turtle discovered in Chesapeake Bay
At approximately 6:10 p.m., sources notified The BayNet about a large carcass in the Chesapeake Bay located on a homeowner's private beach on Bay Drive in Lusby, Maryland. The beach is located about a quarter of a mile from Seahorse Beach, a beach serving the Chesapeake Ranch-Estates community.

The carcass appeared to be approximately six feet long and--judging by a far-from-scientific eye test--around 500 pounds. The animal's head was missing, while a buoy was tethered around its neck. Sources on the scene believe the animal is a sea turtle, judging by the animal's flippers and hard shell.

It is unclear at this time how the animal entered the Chesapeake Bay. The BayNet has notified the Department of Natural Resources.
Lusby is about 7 miles south of here. I've seen a few Sea Turtles in my excursions on the Bay, and more than one corpse has washed up nearby.

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