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Posts Tagged ‘cape cod’

Photo: Lauren Owen Lambert.
A rehabilitator with the Sea Life Aquarium holds one of approximately 85 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles released at Galveston Beach in Texas last year.

When Suzanne and Erik and the kids were visiting the island of Eleuthera, a local guide gave them a treat. As they maneuvered their rented kayak, the guide stood on his paddle board and led them to where they could see green turtles without harming them. Though listed as endangered, the turtles seemed very happy in Eleuthera. According to Suzanne, they swam really fast and playfully.

Some other endangered turtles have been moving a little too fast — to the hook of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they get in trouble. That’s when local rescue operations go into high gear.

Lauren Owens Lambert at Vox has the story.

“Sea turtles appear to fly as they swim beneath ocean waves. With long, gray-green flippers that move like slow wingbeats, they glide through the water as birds do through the sky. Actually flying through the air, though, at 10,000 feet above the ground, the reptiles seem anything but graceful.

“Inside the airplane, 120 sea turtles, 118 of which are juvenile Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), shift uncomfortably among beach towels inside stacked Chiquita banana boxes, their crusty eyes and curved pearlescent beaks peeking through slot handles. The windowless metal cabin vibrates with the sound of propellers as the pilots work to keep the plane aloft and the internal air temperature at a turtle-friendly 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s December 2020, and outside, the cold air above New England slowly gives way to balmier southern temperatures. The pilots are taking the turtles on a 2,900-kilometer (1,800-mile) trip from Massachusetts to Texas’s Gulf Coast.

“Eight hours later, they’re nearly there. ‘We’re coming into Corpus Christi,’ says Mike Looby, a pilot with a sea turtle rescue organization called Turtles Fly Too, as airport runways come into view among the sprawling buildings below. Looby and co-pilot Bill Gisler, both from Ohio, will visit four different locations in Texas to offload the animals. This is the largest number of turtles the organization has transported to date.

“Once the plane is on the tarmac, staff and volunteers from several aquariums and marine rescue facilities crowd around. The pilots gently slide each box of turtles toward the cargo door, and the group lines up to carry them to vans parked nearby.

“ ‘What happened to these guys?’ someone asks.

“ ‘They were found stranded on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts,’ says Donna Shaver, chief of the division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, as she grabs a box.

“In the summer months, the waters in the Gulf of Maine where Cape Cod is located are warm, calm, and full of food, serving as a natural nursery for 2- to 4-year-old Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. Migrating loggerheads (Caretta caretta), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and the occasional leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) also visit Cape Cod Bay. But as water temperatures plummet in November, December, and January, the cold-blooded turtles must migrate out or perish.

Many lose their way and wash up, cold-stunned, on the inside edge of the hook-shaped Cape, which curls into the ocean like a flexing arm, forming what some locals call ‘the deadly bucket.’ …

“ ‘This area is increasing in water temperature faster than 99 percent of water bodies in the world,’ says Kate Sampson, sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who helps coordinate turtle transport. ‘Because of that, it seems like it’s drawing more sea turtles.’

“Fortunately for the turtles, hundreds of volunteers and several staff members organized by the nonprofit Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary stand at the ready to patrol every inch of the 105-kilometer (65-mile) stretch of beach lining the inner Cape, twice a day, from November through December, no matter the weather. When they find a turtle, the animal begins a logistically complex journey from rescue to rehabilitation and, eventually, to release.

“Saving each flight’s worth of little lives involves approximately five vans, 1,000 miles, four organizations, and 50 people. Without this monumental collaboration across North America’s Eastern Seaboard, other efforts to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction might be futile.”

Read why turtle strandings are on the rise at Vox, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Opération cétacés.
Humpback whale breaching.

In case you couldn’t get behind the New York Times firewall to read about the whale that tried to swallow a lobster fisherman, here’s the gist of it. It’s a great reminder that all our ancient, impossible-seeming stories, from the Bible’s Jonah to Pinocchio and Geppetto, generally have a basis in fact.

Maria Cramer reported, “It was sunny and clear on Friday morning and the water was calm off the coast of Provincetown, Mass., where Michael Packard was diving for lobsters. His longtime fishing partner, Josiah Mayo, was following him in their fishing vessel, the J&J, tracking him through the bubbles that rose from Mr. Packard’s breathing gear to the surface of the water. The men had already caught 100 pounds of lobster, and Mr. Packard was about 40 feet underwater, looking for more.

“Suddenly, the bubbles stopped, Mr. Mayo said. Then, the water began to churn violently. A creature breached the surface and for an agonizing split second, Mr. Mayo thought it was a white shark.

‘I immediately thought it was the shark encounter that we’d unfortunately been preparing for for years,’ he said in an interview on Saturday.

“Then, he saw the fluke and the head of a whale. Moments later, he saw Mr. Packard fly out of the water.

“ ‘ “It tried to eat me,” ’ Mr. Packard sputtered, according to Mr. Mayo. The whale, a humpback, swam away as Mr. Mayo and another fisherman helped Mr. Packard back into the boat.

“Such terrifying encounters are virtually unheard-of, according to Charles Mayo, Josiah Mayo’s father and a senior scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, a town of about 3,000 people on the tip of Cape Cod. …

“ ‘I’ve never heard of that ever happening,’ Dr. Mayo said of Mr. Packard’s ordeal. Still, the encounter is explainable, he said.

“The whale, possibly a 32- to 35-foot juvenile that had previously been seen swimming in the area, was most likely diving for food when it inadvertently caught Mr. Packard in its enormous mouth.

“Humpback whales spend much of their time in that part of New England, searching for and engulfing small schooling fish, said Jooke Robbins, director of the humpback whale studies program at the Center for Coastal Studies. They lunge fast, open their mouths and use baleen plates to ‘filter’ the water out before swallowing the fish, Dr. Robbins said in a statement.

“When the whale realized it had caught something that was not its typical prey — in this case, an unsuspecting lobsterman — it responded the way a human who accidentally ingested a fly would, Dr. Mayo said. …

“Mr. Packard told reporters that he was on his second dive, going toward the bottom of sea when he felt ‘this truck hit me.’ His first thought was that a white shark had attacked him, but when he did not feel teeth piercing into him, he realized he was inside a whale.

“ ‘I was completely inside; it was completely black,’ Mr. Packard told The Cape Cod Times. ‘I thought to myself: There’s no way I’m getting out of here — I’m done, I’m dead. All I could think of was my boys — they’re 12 and 15 years old.’ …

“He said he struggled against the mouth of the whale and could feel its powerful muscles squeezing against him. Then, he saw light and felt the whale’s head shaking and his body being thrown into the water. …

“Mr. Packard, who was released from the hospital on Friday, had extensive bruises, but no broken bones.”

More at the Times, here.

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americanchaffseed2

Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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The humble horseshoe crab is a reminder of prehistoric times. Public Radio International’s Living on Earth recently devoted a segment to this curious character.

From the transcript of the show …

Steve Curwood: “For healthy oceans, it’s not enough to protect just the top of the food chain – the cod or halibut or swordfish we eat. The bottom of the food chain is vital too. That could be the plankton or the tiny forage fish eaten by many species – or it could be the extraordinary prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab.

“These helmet-shaped arthropods have been around for millions of years, and up and down the east coast of the US, volunteers come out to count them as the females come ashore to spawn. On Cape Cod, as Karen Zusi reports, scientists and volunteers are tagging and labeling the crabs to help conserve them.”

Karen Zusi: “There are a lot of reasons why someone might appreciate the lowly horseshoe crab. Eel and conch fishermen use them as bait, and medical companies draw blood from the animals. Horseshoe crab blood will clot in the presence of bacteria, so these companies can use the crab’s blood to make sure vaccines and medical implants are free of germs. Their blood is worth sixty thousand dollars a gallon.

“But horseshoe crab populations are dropping. To preserve them, scientists and volunteers on Cape Cod are wading into the water to count and tag the animals.

“Special labels help them keep track [says] Mark Faherty, the science coordinator at Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. …

“The Massachusetts Audubon Society just recruited graduate student Michael Long to lead their newest horseshoe crab study. With researchers from the University of Massachusetts, he will be tagging the crabs this summer with a telemetry [label], glued onto the crab’s shell.”

Faherty: “My acoustic study is going to be putting on acoustic receivers out in the bay, and acoustic markers on the crabs. The receivers have about a 600-meter detection radius so anytime a crab that’s marked with an acoustic receiver comes within 600 meters of that receiver, it will mark where it is. So based on where each crab pings, you can kind of track its movements around the bay.”

Zusi: “None of this would be possible without the Audubon Society’s volunteers. They come from all walks of life.

“At an Audubon horseshoe crab conference, Long organizes new volunteers to help him count horseshoe crabs on the beach, and Faherty trains them in the basic survey procedures. …

“Once they got down to business, the volunteers were trained to divide the beach into small sections, count the horseshoe crabs, and record all of their information. The volunteers go out to survey when female crabs are coming to lay their eggs in the sand. Males follow to fertilize the eggs after they’re laid.”

Faherty: “The male crabs you quickly learn to recognize because they’re by themselves. They will mate with a model, if you make a model of a horseshoe crab — the males will congregate around it. They’ll spawn. They’ll spawn with your boot. These are just hormonally-charged animals that are ready to mate with anything. Females are not lonely for long in the horseshoe crab world.”

More here on the effort to study and protect horseshoe crabs.

Photo: Peter Massas, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
A horseshoe crab floats by the shore on Union Beach in New Jersey. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

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Photograph of northern lapwing off course in Massachusetts: Ian Davies

Birds deal with hurricanes better than you might think.

Some get blown off course, but they adapt. Today’s Boston Globe has a story by Peter Schworm and Melissa M. Werthmann on northern lapwings that Hurricane Sandy detoured from their Scandinavia-to-African migration route. The lapwings are now delighting birdwatchers on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and in Middleborough. Read more here.

And Natalie Angier writes at the NY Times, “Biologists studying the hurricane’s aftermath say there is remarkably little evidence that birds … have suffered the sort of mass casualties seen in environmental disasters like the BP oil spill of 2010, when thousands of oil-slicked seabirds washed ashore, unable to fly, feed or stay warm.

“ ‘With an oil spill, the mortality is way more direct and evident,’ said Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. …

“To the contrary, scientists said, powerful new satellite tracking studies of birds on the wing — including one that coincided with the height of Hurricane Sandy’s fury — reveal birds as the supreme masters of extreme weather management, able to skirt deftly around gale-force winds, correct course after being blown horribly astray, or even use a hurricane as a kind of slingshot to propel themselves forward at hyperspeed. …

“In preparation for a possible offshore wind development project, Caleb Spiegel, a wildlife biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and his colleagues at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have attached transmitters to the tail feathers of several types of migratory birds, including the northern gannet, a big waterfowl with a spectacular fishing style of falling straight down from the sky like a missile dropped from a plane.

“As it happened, one of the gannets was approaching the southern shore of New Jersey at just the moment Hurricane Sandy made landfall there, and Mr. Spiegel could catch the bird’s honker of a reaction. Making a sharp U-turn, it headed back north toward Long Island and then cut out to sea along the continental shelf, where it waited out the storm while refueling with a few divebombs for fish.

“ ‘The bird has since returned to New Jersey,’ Mr. Spiegel said. ‘It’s pretty much back where it started.’ ” More here.

Photograph: NY Times
A protected area for plovers in Lido Beach, N.Y., after a 2009 storm.

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