Photo credit: Meghan Calhoun/ Audubon Nature Institute
Zoos and Aquariums Continue to Help Gulf's WildlifeApr 18, 2011
Silver Spring, MD—One year later, America’s leading zoos and aquariums are
continuing rehabilitation and research efforts to help wildlife impacted by the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“Many zoos and aquariums have
animal rescue and rehabilitation programs in place, and their trained personnel
and existing infrastructure have been essential for the continuing oil spill
response,” said Dr. Paul Boyle, Senior Vice President of Conservation and
Education at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). “Accredited zoos and
aquariums have unique expertise with animals and they continue to support the
care and welfare of wildlife in danger from impacts like the oil spill.”
Following the oil spill, AZA-accredited
zoos and aquariums around the country offered assistance, by pledging the
services of 200 animal care professionals, donating supplies, vehicles or other
resources to assist in the wildlife rescue efforts. For a list of institutions,
please visit http://www.aza.org/oil-spill-institutions/ .
Many zoos and aquariums support
wildlife rehabilitation through their ongoing animal rescue and rehabilitation
programs. In addition, AZA-accredited organizations focus on scientific field
research to help animals and the habitats they need to survive in the wild.
“For all the scientists who study the Gulf, the spill
and its effects will remain a key scientific focus for years to come,” said Dr.
Kumar Mahadevan, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s President and CEO. “This
disaster really helped illustrate the need for more coordinated research
With or without an oil spill,
many AZA-accredited institutions are directly involved in the rescue,
rehabilitation and release of marine animals. These institutions collectively have
dedicated more than 200 years of time caring for stranded dolphins, whales, sea
lions, seals, sea otters, sea turtles, and manatees. Each year, on average, more than 350 marine
animals are rescued and over 125,000 hours by more than 100 staff members are
spent caring for them. In the last 20 years, AZA-accredited institutions have rescued
and rehabilitated more than 1,800 marine animals. More than 1,750 (97%) of
these animals have been successfully released back into their natural habitat.
“Their immediate, intensive,
and long-term response to the Gulf oil spill demonstrates the vital role of
zoos and aquariums in protecting animals and their ecosystems for future
generations,” added Boyle.
Marine Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation
Coordinated by the Audubon Nature Institute, the Louisiana
Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program (LMMSTRP) was the primary responder
for the state of Louisiana
for rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing marine mammals and sea turtles.
Audubon began receiving oiled sea turtles in the beginning of May 2010, and in
the end, Audubon rescued and de-oiled more than 200 animals, mostly endangered
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. Many volunteer zoo and aquarium veterinarians and
vet technicians from around North America traveled to Louisiana to help with
de-oiling turtles, including from San
Antonio Zoo, Shedd Aquarium,
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Detroit
Zoo, Toronto Zoo, NEW Zoo, Toledo Zoo, Vancouver
Aquarium Marine Science Center, Zoo
New England, New England Aquarium
and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Only
three sea turtles died in rehabilitation at Audubon and 156 were released
either off the coast of Louisiana or Florida starting in
early August through mid-October. Mote
Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, SeaWorld Orlando, Florida Aquarium, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The
Seas at Epcot helped with the release of turtles back into the ocean in Florida.
“Currently, Audubon has 30
sea turtles still in rehabilitation and is looking forward to releasing these
animals this spring,” said Michele Kelley, Stranding Coordinator for the LMMSTRP
and Senior Marine Mammal Trainer at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. “The 30
sea turtles left in rehabilitation suffered from other injuries that did not
make them good candidates for release last year, however, they have done very
well under our care and now all been medically cleared for release.”
The LMMSTRP also rescued
three bottlenose dolphins during the oil spill. One died shortly after rescue,
but two have since been fully rehabilitated. One male was too young to release
back into the wild and was moved to a new home at the Dolphin
in the Florida Keys, and the other dolphin’s readiness
for release is still being monitored.
Pelican Rescue and Rehabilitation
Staff from another Gulf Coast
institution, Jackson Zoo, volunteered
at the oiled avian center in Theodore,
Alabama. The Jackson Zoo also
became the holding institution for non-releasable pelicans—birds that for
health reasons cannot be returned to the wild. Through coordination by staff at
Moody Gardens and Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, the main BP contractor for terrestrial
animal rescue and rehabilitation, and the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service (USFWS), AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums offered homes for these
pelicans eventually made permanent homes at seven AZA-accredited zoos: Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo,
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Alexandria Zoo, St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Jackson Zoo.
Research and Workshops
Laboratory and Aquarium’s oil spill
response, which started immediately after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig
explosion, is an ongoing team effort among a diverse group of scientists who
study everything from large animals to the most minute changes in the DNA of
Mote’s initial efforts in the days and months after
the spill included using underwater robots to search for oil and contaminants,
adding information about oil impacts to Mote’s Beach Conditions Report™, which
covers 33 beaches on Florida’s
west coast, and gathering environmental samples to allow for a baseline
measurement of oil impacts.
A year after the spill, Mote scientists are conducting
ongoing studies of oil and dispersant effects on sharks and large pelagic fish
species, sea turtles and corals. Through the leadership of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Mote and Johns
Hopkins University initiated a major study using semi-permeable membrane devices
to search for chemical contaminants associated with oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico. The Chicago
Zoological Society and Mote are also looking at the oil’s effects of
contaminants on dolphins. (For full details of these studies, please go to www.mote.org/oilresponse.)
Mote’s efforts have gone beyond singular studies on
the effects of the spill. By hosting and co-sponsoring workshops related to the
Deepwater Horizon disaster and participating in those hosted by others, Mote
scientists are also helping to shape the future research agenda for the entire Gulf of Mexico.
In November 2010, Mote and its partners from the
National Wildlife Federation and the University
of South Florida held a
successful national symposium to craft recommendations for long-term responses
to the spill. Their major recommendation is for a unified research and
monitoring effort that will be able to quickly detect an oil spill’s effects as
they arise and give management agencies the information they need to implement
changes to deal with effects as soon as they are detected. Another conference
(“Beyond the Horizon”) taking place May 11-13, 2011, at Mote’s Sarasota, Fla.,
campus will highlight the Gulf’s unique habitats and the protections they need.
(More info at www.mote.org/beyondhorizon.)
For interviews, contact:
Linda Cendes, AZA, 301-562-0777 x 236
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and
Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and
aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation.
Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance
that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for
animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things.
The AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping
animals in their native habitats.
Sarah Burnett, Audubon Nature Institute, 504-212-5335
Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium,
941-388-4441 x 365
AZA Members: Submit your Zoo & Aquarium News