We pulled out of the honking pandemonium of morning traffic into the cement schoolyard of Chhotubhai Patel High School. It was only slightly quieter than the street. Hundreds of kids milled about or huddled in small groups, practicing cheers that blended into a rhythmic, unintelligible wall of sound.
Those who weren’t dressed in school uniforms sported tiger T-shirts that proclaimed “LEAVE ME ALONE” in bold type. Photographer Steve Winter and I jumped out of the car: We’d come to film this rally. Kids with painted tiger faces roared at us as we weaved through the crowd.
Shortly, 1,200 students streamed into the streets of the small central Indian city of Chandrapur, halting traffic. They screamed with deafening exuberance, so loud it echoed off the buildings. Save the tiger! Save the forest! Everyone—pedestrians, motorists, store owners—stopped to watch.
Many of the marchers carried signs and banners in English and Hindi that identified their affiliation, Kids for Tigers. These high schoolers are part of a groundswell youth movement that is now more than a million strong across the country. I had chills watching them. Despite the constant, heartbreaking news I hear almost daily about the tiger’s continuing demise, these kids inspired hope.
This week, scientists in Brazil weren’t kidding when they said that they “hit the mother lode.”
They were referring to a mass hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles at the Abufari Biological Reserve. It’s one of the largest known hatchings for the species,Podocnemis expansa.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation were able to mark and release 15,000 of the hatchlings. The methodology is usually referred to as “mark and recapture,” and it will allow the researchers to estimate the size of the turtle’s population in the future.
Protecting Their Future
While the giant South American river turtle is currently considered “of least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species, it is still threatened by unregulated consumption of the turtles’ meat and eggs and may soon be listed as critically endangered. (Related: “World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle Nearly Extinct.”)
The turtles, which are the largest of the side-necked turtle family, are only found in the Amazon River Basin and can grow up to three feet long. Their lifespan can extend to over 20 years in the wild and they’re known for being more communal than other local turtles.
Their mass hatchings typically occur during the dry season along the river sandbanks of the Purus River Basin in western Brazil. Having such large numbers of hatchings is part of the animal’s evolutionary strategy—the bigger the group, the more it deters potential predators.
The researchers used a fence to contain the turtle hatchlings that emerged from pre-identified nests and marked them for future research. Camila Ferrara, an aquatic turtle specialist for the Wildlife Conservation Society Brazil program, hopes that the marked turtles will provide data that will help safeguard the turtles from extinction. (Related: “Hundreds of Rare Pig-Nosed Turtles Rescued at Airport.”)
“Turtles are among the most endangered species of vertebrates in the region and worldwide,” added Julie Kunen, the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Latin America and the Caribbean program.
“Monitoring programs for these and other turtles and tortoises will provide a foundation for sound management plans in the years to come.”
Guest Blog by Tim Binder, VP of Collection Planning at Shedd Aquarium
As a nationally recognized leader in rescue and rehabilitation work, Shedd Aquarium has responded to animals in need for over two decades. Whether it’s providing around-the-clock care for Cayucos, one of our rescued sea otter pups, or serving as an active responder in times of environmental disaster, Shedd’s extraordinary team of animal health experts have worked together with partners across the globe to support one another in the best interest of the animals.
We care for more than 32,500 animals at Shedd, but as we continue to expand our role in helping animals in need, we have been developing partnerships with organizations that respond to seasonally predictable animal stranding events. One of these relationships is with Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a leading marine-orientated non-profit organization that has treated more than 90,000 oiled, ill, injured or abandoned African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968.
During this particular time of year, hundreds of African penguin chicks are abandoned or otherwise do not thrive in their nests. In response to an unusually high number of African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) strandings this season, Shedd recently worked with the SANCCOB to assist in the rehabilitation of more than 500 endangered birds.
As an international leader in animal care and conservation, Shedd was able to mobilize quickly and provide assistance to respond to the crisis. In January, two members of the marine mammal care team headed out to Cape Town, South Africa to lend their expertise and helping hands to some of the most extreme cases in the SANCCOB’s Intensive Care Unit.
Many of the stranded penguins had health issues including foot problems, lacerations, broken wings, malaria or other illness. They needed all the help they could get and our team was able to provide the necessary care so they can hopefully be released back into the wild. While in South Africa, our team worked hand-in-hand with SANCCOB to care for the penguin chicks, helping to nurse them back to health until they had normal blood values, good feather condition and were healthy enough to swim long distances.
Classified as endangered on the Red List from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this vulnerable water bird is in rapid decline which could lead to extinction for the species in as soon as 15 years. African penguins are found ill, oiled or injured each year as a result of human impact, including oil spills, habitat degradation and climate change. Food shortages resulting from large catches of fish by commercial fisheries and environmental fluctuations also remain a major threat to the population.
This collaboration is essential in helping to save an endangered species. Working together, we are able to get one step closer to achieving the ultimate goal – to stabilize the population of the wild African penguins.
Back at home, Shedd is involved in a successful penguin breeding program and contributes to several penguin rescue efforts with expertise and knowledge gained at the aquarium. In 2001, Shedd joined an international effort to rehabilitate more than 20,000 African penguins from a large colony of endangered penguins that were oiled when a cargo ship sank off the coast of South Africa. Members of the aquarium’s penguin care team helped to rehabilitate and release thousands of birds during a three-week trip to Cape Town.
Because of Shedd’s expertise, the aquarium was approached to assist in many efforts including beluga calf rescue efforts in Canada and Alaska, oil spill responses in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, and endangered coral recovery in Florida. We also act as a partner and advisor to government agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other conservation organizations and fellow zoos and aquariums around the world that need advice about relocating orphaned or injured wildlife.
By working together in strategic and collaborative ways – rescuing penguins in South Africa or providing care for animals in our own backyard – we will be able to collectively achieve our ultimate vision of engaging people and saving species – and hopefully inspire people to make a difference that will preserve and protect animals and habitats for future generations to come.
With more than 35 years of experience, Tim Binder supervises the Fishes division and registrar’s office as Vice President of Collection Planning at the John G. Shedd Aquarium
Understanding and predicting animal movement is important as it is central to establishing effective management and conservation strategies . Until relatively recently, studying the movements and behaviors of highly migratory marine species (turtles, sharks, whales, penguins, seals and billfish) have been challenging due to the logistical and technological constraints of working in aquatic environments. However, rapid advancements in electronic tagging and tracking tools have significantly improved the ability of scientists to remotely study the movements of these enigmatic, and often threatened, animals [2,3].
Recently, Dan Costa and colleagues  summarized new insights in the migrations of large pelagic marine animals arising through the use of electronic tagging (acoustic and satellite telemetry). The paper reviewed how electronic tagging has significantly increased our understanding of their movements over scales ranging from < 10 m to > 5000 km (e.g. turtles, albatrosses, tunas, sharks, and over long time periods (years). Further, Costa and colleagues  reviewed how tagging studies are permitting scientists to understand how movements and habitat use are influenced by environmental (e.g. temperature, chlorophyll) and biological variables (e.g. prey availability) [5,6]. The paper also discussed how electronic tagging been used to establish and evaluate effective conservation strategies for highly migratory marine species; for example, identifying critical habitats of sea turtles for implementing marine protected areas .
Despite these advances and benefits of tagging research, there still remains some areas for improvement. Costa and team suggest that technological research priorities should include improved tag powering mechanisms, increased sensor capabilities, better attachment techniques, tag miniaturization and more efficient data recovery methods.
Emerging analytical tools and technologies capable of measuring the physiological state, movement capacity, and performance ability of marine animals, as well as the environmental factors they encounter, are allowing researchers to increasingly understand and predict why animals move [4, 11-14] (Figure below). As this field continues to advance, electronic tagging will enable scientists to address some of the most pressing environmental issues of the 21st century, including: (1) how will marine species be impacted by human-induced global change (e.g. warming climate, habitat loss)? (2) What is the adaptive capacity of these species to cope with a changing planet? (3) What will be the associated ecological and evolutionary consequences? (4) if and what strategies can be taken to reduce potential changes and foster conservation of marine species. As tracking tools continue to evolve with advances in technology and research, so will its application for understanding, predicting and responding to the ecological, evolutionary and conservation implications of marine animal movement.
Our Tagging Research
My laboratory at the University of Miami is currently using satellite tags to track the movements of shark species in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean. The goal of this work is to understand the migratory routes and residency patterns of these sharks to identify “hot spots” in place and time that are critical for mating, giving birth and feeding as well as locations where these animals are vulnerable to destructive fishing. By characterizing and identifying these hot spots, we can help supply policy makers with the data they need to implement effective management strategies that will improve conservation for these species. For example, our research has revealed that a great hammerhead tagged in the Florida Keys migrated up the east coast of the United States, as far north as New Jersey before moving offshore. This represented a range extension for this species as they had never been documented as far north. Another of our tagging research focusing on tiger sharks that are fed at a popular ecotourism dive site in the Bahamas, found that the dive tourism did not impact the long-term, large-scale movements of the tiger sharks (Check out a video summary here). Moreover, the tiger sharks tracked made extensive migrations thousands of kms out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on foraging forays (see map below). Our tracking of bull sharks and tarpon in the Florida Keys revealed that both the sharks and tarpon swam through similar areas, but that tarpon altered their movements in areas frequented by bull sharks to avoid chances of being attacked. In fact, tarpon appeared to even forfeit the best feeding sites to minimize their risk of predation from bull sharks. You can track the movements of our tagged sharks through an interactive google earth map on our website.
- C. Greene, B. Block, D. Welch, G. Jackson, Advances in conservation oceanography: new tagging and tracking technologies and their potential for transforming the science underlying fisheries management, 22 (2009).
- N. Hammerschlag, a. J. Gallagher, D. M. Lazarre, A review of shark satellite tagging studies, J. Exp. Mar. Bio. Ecol. 398, 1–8 (2011).
- E. Hazen et al., Ontogeny in marine tagging and tracking science: technologies and data gaps, Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 457, 221–240 (2012).
- D. P. Costa, G. A. Breed, P. W. Robinson, New Insights into Pelagic Migrations: Implications for Ecology and Conservation, Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 43, 73–96 (2012).
- B. A. Block et al., Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean., Nature 475, 86–90 (2011).
- T. W. Horton et al., Straight as an arrow: humpback whales swim constant course tracks during long-distance migration., Biol. Lett. 7, 674–679 (2011).
- B. A. Wallace et al., Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles, PLoS One (2011).
- G. C. Hays, C. J. A. Bradshaw, M. C. James, P. Lovell, D. W. Sims, Why do Argos satellite tags deployed on marine animals stop transmitting?, J. Exp. Mar. Bio. Ecol. 349, 52–60 (2007).
- R. P. Wilson, C. R. McMahon, Devices on wild animals and skeletons in the cupboard. What constitutes acceptable practice, Front. Ecol. Environ. 4, 147–154 (2006).
- C. Clark, C. Forney, E. Manii, Tracking and Following a Tagged Leopard Shark with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, J. Field. Robot. 30, 309–322 (2013).
- S. Cooke, S. et al., Developing a mechanistic understanding of fish migrations by linking telemetry with physiology, behavior, genomics and experimental biology: an interdisciplinary, Fisheries , 321–339 (2008).
- N. E. Humphries, H. Weimerskirch, N. Queiroz, E. J. Southall, D. W. Sims, Foraging success of biological Lévy flights recorded in situ., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 109, 7169–74 (2012).
- B. A. Block et al., Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean, Nature 475, 86–90 (2011).
- K. M. Miller et al., Genomic signatures predict migration and spawning failure in wild Canadian salmon., Science 331, 214–217 (2011).