NOAA update on sea turtle stranding in the Gulf of Mexico

ROBERT, La. – There have been 38 sea turtle strandings reported from Alabama through the Louisiana delta since April 30. Sea turtle stranding responders working under the guidance of NOAA – who responds to thousands of sea turtle strandings every year – recovered all but one of the turtles. All those recovered were dead except one, which died shortly thereafter. Most of the turtles identified so far are endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridley turtles. No evidence of oil was found on the beaches where the strandings occurred.

“Based on careful examination, NOAA scientists do not believe that these sea turtle strandings are related to the oil spill. NOAA and its partners have conducted 10 necropsies so far – none of ten turtles showed evidence of oil, externally or internally,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA national sea turtle coordinator.

The turtles have been sent to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. to determine, if possible, whether their deaths are linked to oil, or another cause. Based on careful examination, NOAA scientists do not believe that these sea turtle strandings are related to the oil spill. NOAA and its partners have conducted 10 necropsies so far – none of ten turtles showed evidence of oil, externally or internally. At least 15 more necropsies of dead sea turtles are planned in the coming days. While the complete results can take several weeks because of the time needed to analyze tissue, preliminary results are available immediately after the necropsy itself, which takes several hours.

Potential Causes
There are thousands of sea turtle strandings reported every year in the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have shown a pattern of increased stranding during this time of year. NOAA believes the stranding numbers are higher than normal and are working to understand why.

Sea turtles die of natural causes, and are also affected by natural factors such as algal blooms. Primary human causes for sea turtle deaths include being caught in fishing nets, shrimp trawls and vessel strikes.

Monitoring
Overflights of the oil spill area yesterday showed 30-50 sea turtles (species unknown) swimming in or near the oil spill. As weather allows, NOAA will continue to do daily overflights of the slick, which will guide mitigation efforts, such as burning of oil and application of dispersants. NOAA is working on a plan to address large numbers of oiled sea turtles.

There are five sea turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico. Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, and green sea turtles are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act; loggerhead and hawksbill sea turtles are listed as threatened.

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