For millions of years, sea turtles have lived in all oceans except polar regions. Today, there are seven known species of the sea turtle. Many can be found living among coral reefs and nearby waterways. Notable threats to the sea turtle are boat strikes and foreign debris that enter their habitats such as balloons, fishing gear, and various plastics.
Mote Marine Laboratory is a non-profit research organization which celebrated its 60th year in 2015. Located in Sarasota, Florida, the marine lab also has field stations in eastern Sarasota County and the Florida Keys. Mote scientists conduct ocean research around the world. The Mote Aquarium showcases local marine life and research projects to the public.
When conducting research and collecting data, there will be times when an animal in distress is discovered. In 1992, Mote began operating a whale and dolphin hospital at its Sarasota facility. To date, the whale and dolphin hospital has rendered care to 70 animals, from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to pygmy sperm whales. In 1995, Mote opened its full time sea turtle hospital, which has already seen over 560 patients.
Running two fully operational rescued animal hospitals is no easy task. The need for experienced staff, resources, and funding is immense. The Sea Turtle Grants program, operated by the Sea Turtle Conservancy, has awarded Mote Marine Laboratory with a new grant totaling $14,309. This grant will fund the purchase of an updated endoscope, attachments, and laptop computer to carry out essential procedures — especially examining and removing fish hooks, plastic trash and other debris that sea turtles either mistake for food or accidentally ingest. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a tiny light and camera attached. The device helps veterinarians see into an animal’s body without surgery. Endoscopes are also commonly used in human medical care.
Pictured above is Anakin, a sea turtle who required medical care after swallowing a balloon. “Our hospital cares for 50 turtles each year on average, and many of those have swallowed foreign objects that can cause internal injuries and prevent them from eating,” said Lynne Byrd, Mote’s Medical Care and Rehabilitation Coordinator. “Removing such objects is crucial, but the turtles are often in poor condition and any procedure must be done delicately and efficiently. An endoscope allows us to see the foreign object, determine how it is lodged in the turtle’s body and how best to remove it, allowing for a swifter and safer surgery.”
As every species of sea turtle is considered threatened or endangered, Mote has an important mission to rescue and rehabilitate as many animals in need as possible and return them to the wild. Through the dedication of their staff, grant funding, and support from aquarium visitors, Mote will continue to help save the lives of those in distress.
Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941- 988-0212. If you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in Florida waters or a stranded or dead dolphin, whale, or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922. As always, if you happen upon an animal in distress, avoid sudden movements and loud noises. Don’t approach or touch the animal while waiting for trained personnel to arrive.