During my second month of internship, we had an emergency admission to our turtle rescue centre.
On the evening of 21 February, we received a call from front office that a nearby resort (Anantara Kihavah Villas) had rescued a sea turtle. The turtle had been found floating in a ghost net, exhausted, extremely dehydrated and with its front left flipper broken. We immediately organised a boat trip to retrieve the injured juvenile Olive Ridley turtle, ‘Sidney’. Upon admission, we checked Sidney’s wounds and gave a fresh water bath to prevent further dehydration. The front left flipper was severely injured, the humerus bone was broken and the major blood vessels were already cut off. The flipper was merely a dead weight, connected to the body just by the joint. When Sidney was being given a scrub to remove accumulated algae, we discovered the edges of the plastron and carapace scutes were soft, probably due to calcium deficiency and chronic malnutrition.
After being cleaned, Sidney was able to eat some fish and then mostly rested on the surface of the water in our recovery pool. After further inspection with the resort doctor, we made the decision to amputate the broken flipper. On the day of the surgery, we were concerned that Sidney’s appetite was poor and he was still mildly dehydrated. We were extremely hopeful that Sidney would recover, however he sadly passed away shortly after surgery.
Apart from taking care of the turtles in our rehabilitation Centre, I also help Sarah with the snorkelling excursions and dolphin cruises, almost daily. Prior to going out to sea, guests are given a brief presentation on the marine life of the Maldives, to raise awareness on the threats faced by marine creatures.
Despite last year’s coral bleaching event, the fish population remains robust and is one of the most diverse I have ever witnessed. We take photographs of marine life around Baa Atoll for our Wikipedia page, as well as for Turtle ID and our new Dolphin ID project. Sea turtles can be individually identified based on their unique facial scute pattern (like human fingerprints). If we’re lucky, we can encounter such ‘megafauna’ as sea turtles, black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks and spotted eagle rays all on a single trip.
The dolphin cruise is one the activities I look forward to the most, as I have always been intrigued by the intelligent and mischievous nature of dolphins. We encounter two species of dolphin near Landaa Giraavaru – Bottlenose and more commonly the Spinner Dolphin. When I caught a glimpse of my first Spinner, leaping from the water, my heart was filled with glee! They are easily spotted making acrobatic leaps, and watching them jumping and spinning up close is a real treat.
Currently, I am helping to set up a dolphin ID database by photographing as many dolphins as possible during each dolphin cruise. Taking good shots was tough at first (becoming easier with practice), however the sun’s position and sea conditions can still pose a challenge, and trying to angle the shot perpendicular to the dolphin’s body is tricky. On average, out of 100 photographs taken, about 30 are good for analysis. The photographs of the dorsal fin are cropped and analysed using image matching software ‘Interactive Individual Identification System’ (I3S). Dolphins can be identified individually based on the notches, scars and markings present on their dorsal fin, although Spinner dolphins are harder to identify individually as most have “clean” dorsal fins, lacking any distinct notches or markings. Thus far, 53 Spinner dolphins and 20 Bottlenose dolphins have been individually identified.
See you next month!