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Scientists at the New England Aquarium have made groundbreaking advancements in diagnostic testing for sea turtles.

Their research specifically targeted Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, many of which were rescued during the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

By Jenna DeedyPublished 3 months ago 3 min read
Scientists at the New England Aquarium have made groundbreaking advancements in diagnostic testing for sea turtles.
Photo by Shaafi Ali on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: The following article mentions both human and animal deaths from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On the twentieth of April, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform underwent a catastrophic event, causing an immense oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This unfortunate incident resulted in the loss of life for nearly a dozen workers, with additional individuals sustaining injuries. In the subsequent eighty-seven days, substantial quantities of oil seeped into the water, endangering numerous marine wildlife, including approximately eighty-six thousand juvenile Kemp's Ridley sea turtles. The long-term repercussions of this catastrophe on the marine ecosystem of the Gulf, particularly for sea turtles, remained uncertain until recently.

Researchers at the New England Aquarium's Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life have developed a novel approach to analyze the blood of rescued sea turtles for aldosterone, a crucial hormone. This method, in conjunction with other tests developed by the Aquarium, facilitates the evaluation of various hormones in the blood of oiled turtles that have been rescued. The findings of their study have been disseminated in a recent edition of "Endangered Species Research."

The collection of blood samples was undertaken by scientists and veterinarians affiliated with the Aquarium, who traveled to the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. This facility had received over three hundred sea turtles from the Gulf of Mexico for medical evaluation and treatment. Once the turtles had recovered, they were reintroduced into their natural habitat, while their blood samples were transported to Boston and cryogenically preserved for future testing.

A recent study conducted by the Aquarium revealed that Kemp's Ridley sea turtles admitted to rehabilitation exhibited abnormal concentrations of aldosterone, corticosterone, and thyroid hormones, all of which are produced by the adrenal gland. These hormonal imbalances have the potential to affect the turtles' metabolism, electrolyte balance, and other vital bodily processes. This study builds upon prior research conducted by the Aquarium in 2012, which analyzed blood data and identified physiological impacts on sea turtles exposed to oil. The ability to measure hormone levels from sea turtle blood samples provides veterinarians with a valuable tool for diagnosing health issues in these endangered marine reptiles. Furthermore, this method can contribute to our understanding of their overall health in their natural environment.

Concomitant with the occurrence of the oil spill, the assays employed in the study had not yet undergone the requisite validation specific to sea turtles. This underscores the critical significance of preserving samples, as it enables researchers to utilize future technological advancements to garner insights into past events. In the absence of access to blood samples and foresight regarding the opportune time for their preservation, the sea turtle team of the New England Aquarium would not have been able to conduct their research.

In the event of environmental disasters, such as oil spills, the study of samples is of paramount importance. Scientists can gain insights into the effects of various human-induced threats and improve the treatment of affected animals as they develop more tools and methods to assess the health status of endangered animal populations, including sea turtles, Southern resident killer whales, and black-footed penguins. Additionally, this method can be applied to study the health of other animal species in diverse situations, such as elephants, polar bears, beluga whales, and whale sharks.

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About the Creator

Jenna Deedy

Zoo and Aquarium Professional, Educator, Cosplayer, Writer and B.A. in Psychology whose got a lot to share when it comes to animals, zoos, aquariums, conservation, and more.

Instagram: @jennacostadeedy

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    Jenna DeedyWritten by Jenna Deedy

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