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Aquarium staff excavate nest of loggerhead turtles before storm

Surviving hatchlings will be released in spring 2013 when Atlantic heats up

This hatchling is one of two excavated along with 160 potentially viable eggs from a loggerhead sea turtle nest at Assateague Island National Seashore. This hatchling is one of two excavated along with 160 potentially viable eggs from a loggerhead sea turtle nest at Assateague Island National Seashore.(Nov. 9, 2012) On Friday, Oct. 26, before the onset of high winds and waves from Hurricane Sandy, biological technicians and staff from the Marine Animal Rescue at the National Aquarium in Baltimore excavated a loggerhead sea turtle nest on the north end of Assateague Island National Seashore. The nest contained two live hatchlings and 160 potentially viable eggs, which had been incubating in the hot sand since the end of July.

When sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest, they look for residual light in the night sky that are reflecting off the ocean. However, in areas where there is ample artificial light in the night sky, newly hatched turtles move toward that light source instead of the ocean. In preparation for the newly hatched loggerheads, Harrison’s Harbor Watch agreed to turn off the lights on their property that shine toward the north end of Assateague Island.

“We know that many patrons go to Harrison’s Harbor Watch restaurant specifically for the beautiful night view of the inlet and the northern part of Assateague,” said Trish Kicklighter, superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore. “We truly appreciate that the owners of Harrison’s Harbor Watch turned their lights out for the loggerheads. We are blessed to have partners like Harrison’s Harbor Watch who are willing to go the extra mile for Assateague.”

Although the loggerhead turtle nest was excavated just days before Hurricane Sandy came ashore, the nest excavation was already scheduled for that day. “At the end of each nest gestation,” Bill Hulslander, chief of Resources Management said, “we excavate the nest to collect data. Imagine how excited we were when we dug up the nest to count unhatched eggs and found live turtles. This is one of the first viable nests on the Maryland side of Assateague Island National Seashore.”

The entire nest, including the live turtles, were carefully packed in sand and taken back to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where they will continue to care for the hatchlings and incubate the nest. To date, one hatchling has died from a bacterial infection and the other hatchling is receiving antibiotics as a precaution. The remaining eggs will undergo ultrasound testing to determine if the turtles inside are still alive. The surviving hatchlings will be released from their natal sands in the spring of 2013 when ocean waters warm.

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