by Maureen Goretti
This summer I got the awesome opportunity to intern in the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS). IMMS is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to educating the public about marine life and conducting research on marine creatures in the wild and under human care. This summer I got the opportunity to work with the Stranding Department at IMMS. The stranding department responds to calls from locals in the Gulf Coast area about live and dead marine animals. The summer is full of calls about incidentally hooked sea turtles. When we respond we collect some data from the fisherman and then take the turtle back to the IMMS hospital so that the hook can be removed by our on call veterinarian. The turtle is then placed in rehab and it’s case is assessed for release. Turtles with non-serious injuries will usually stay in rehab for about a week, where IMMS interns such as myself care for them. Every day we feed the turtles a diet of either shrimp, capelin, or crab. They are exercised regularly and their tanks are cleaned daily. Most of the turtles IMMS gets calls about are Kemps Ridley’s, which is one of the most endangered sea turtles due to their lack of nesting beaches. Mississippi is one of the prime nesting beaches for Kemps Ridley’s sea turtles in America. Their other major beaches are in Mexico. Sea turtles will return to the beach where they hatched to breed. If the beach is not there for some reason, it is unlikely the turtle will be able to breed. We also had a green and a loggerhead this year. The loggerhead was taken into the facility after it was found in the middle of the road, not too far from its freshly laid nest. Another issue with sea turtle conservation is artificial lights from commercial and residential properties that disorient the turtle and direct it away from the ocean. Many baby sea turtles often don’t make it to the ocean once they have hatched because of this. The loggerhead sustained no serious injuries and was released within a week. Meanwhile we checked on the nest daily and by the end of the summer, it hatched!
IMMS also responds to calls about dead and live marine mammals. IMMS has a few resident animals, which have been deemed non-releasable by the government. We also got the opportunity to care for these animals. One of the big stories of the summer was about two pygmy killer whales who had stranded earlier that year. IMMS employees worked tirelessly to bring these animals back to health. At the end of the summer they were healthy enough to be released back into the gulf and I got the opportunity to help. IMMS is one of the only facilities to successfully rehab and release pygmy killer whales, experts believe this is because there were two animals, one of which was in better health than the other and served as kind of a motivator for the other whale.