OCEAN CITY – Just a week after a healthy, rehabilitated loggerhead turtle was released from Assateague Island, three more deceased loggerheads washed up on the beach in Ocean City last weekend including a large, decapitated carcass near the Inlet not far from the nearby Sunfest event.
The loggerhead turtle was discovered by passersby near the water line between the pier and the jetty at the Inlet last Saturday. The deceased turtle, which was missing its head, was recovered and taken to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Cooperative Oxford Laboratory for an investigation into its cause of death, although the research has not been completed.
“This is still under investigation,” DNR Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Stranding Biologist Jamie Schofield said yesterday. “We’re still trying to determine the cause of death for this one and two others that washed up in Ocean City last weekend. We’re looking to see if it had been tagged so we can determine where this particular turtle came from and where it had been.”
Schofield confirmed the creature was a loggerhead turtle, which are not listed as endangered but are considered a threatened species. Loggerheads are the most common sea turtles stranded or found deceased in Maryland waters.
“It’s head is missing and it is in terrible condition, which makes us believe it has been dead for awhile and took a long time to wash ashore,” she said. “It’s one of three that washed up in Ocean City last weekend, and we’re investigating to see if there is any common link.”
While there could be any number of reasons why the turtle’s head is missing, including other natural predators feeding on the injured or deceased creature, or even a boat strike, it could have been caught in a trap for other species offshore.
According to Suzanne Thurman, executive director of the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute in Lewes, Del., a decapitation such as this sometimes occurs when a turtle puts it head into some type of trap, resulting unfortunately in its drowning, in which case the trap owner has little or no recourse but to cut the turtle’s head off to free it from the trap.
While the investigation into the deceased turtle is ongoing, one thing is certain, according to Schofield. It is not the rehabilitated loggerhead turtle released from Assateague by the National Aquarium two weeks ago. That turtle, which was rescued in the Ocean City and restored to health at the aquarium in Baltimore, is equipped with tracking devices and has traveled over 120 miles since being released from the beach at Assateague on Sept. 12 and as of late yesterday was swimming off the coast of Virginia near the mouth of the Chesapeake.
Marine mammal strandings and recoveries are not uncommon along the coastal areas of Maryland including Ocean City. If the animal is alive, the National Aquarium responds and often nurses the sick or injured creatures back to health before releasing them. The DNR responds when dead marine mammals wash ashore and conduct research to determine a cause of death.
Schofield said DNR works closely with animal control officers and a variety of different private animal rescue organizations when marine mammals such as turtles wash ashore. The DNR maintains a 24-hour hotline that connects to Maryland Natural Resource Police (NRP) for private citizens who find sick, injured or deceased marine mammals on the beach. The number to call is 1-800-628-9944.