Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rescue of Wilbur the Washback

I've written before about Ann, Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteer extraordinaire. Ann's passion is sea turtles in general, and hatchlings and washbacks in particular. For the non-turtlers amongst you, a hatchling is a new-born. Hatchlings are born with a yolk sack that provides their source of nutrition as they head out on their 20+ mile swim to the Sargasso weed line, where they will make their home for several years. Washbacks are baby turtles that have already started or completed their swim to the Sargasso, using up their yolk sack, and have been washed back in during a storm. They lack the strength and food source to swim back out, and that's where Ann and her STERP team come in. Ann developed STERP (Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program) two seasons ago. Now, during a washback event, STERP volunteers are mobilized via a phone call to find these little critters so they can be transported to the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet for evaluation, rehab, transport back out to the Sargasso, and release.
Ann will be talking about STERP during her Friday afternoon presentation (2:00) at the 14th Annual Sea-Bean Symposium. Meanwhile, she's provided us with some photos to use as a preview. This is Part I - we'll do Part II tomorrow.
In this first photo, a STERP volunteer prepares to search through the wrackline (the seaweed that has washed up) for washbacks. Remember that these are just little critters, a couple of inches long, with protective coloration - sort of like finding a needle in a haystack. Volunteers are not allowed to use sticks to poke through the seaweed, so this is a back-breaking work of love.

And here's Wilbur, washed ashore during a storm. Ann describes his state of mind thusly: Everything happened so fast, Wilbur is dazed. Where is he? What happened to the ocean? Then Wilbur begins to recognize where he is. He is back on the beach amongst the seaweed. Without water, the seaweed traps Wilbur even more. He is exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. He no longer has the energy to crawl back to the ocean, much less to swim 20 miles back to his safe haven in the sargassum. The birds are searching the seaweed for food. The sun is beating down on him.

Wilbur is one of the lucky washbacks - a STERP volunteer will find him, put him in a bucket with a nice damp towel, and transport him to the Marine Resource Center in Ponce Inlet. What happens there will be the topic of tomorrow's post.

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