Duffy’s True Story

Sadly what happened to Duffy is happening to turtles all around the world due to the increasing amounts of plastic in our oceans. Duffy was suffering from something called Floater’s Syndrome where the plastics she had eaten were stopping her from diving down under the water to eat – a bit like how armbands hold you at the surface of the water.  She was stuck on the surface and was starving to death. Luckily turtles who are on the surface are more likely to be spotted by people out on boats and so are more likely to be rescued. Some towns have so many sick and injured turtles that they have built a hospital especially for turtles. One turtle hospital is called Reef HQ in Townsville, Australia and they rescue and look after lots of sick turtles every year.

The first thing they do is to build up the turtles strength before they can find out what is wrong with it. They keep each turtle separate in its own blue tank with a hosepipe providing constant clean water running over the top of the turtle. Here the turtles have to rest and are kept quiet and relaxed ready for their x-ray. The x-ray allows the vets to see if there is anything obviously wrong with the turtle. In lots of cases they see plastic caught in the turtle’s throat, stomach or intestines causing the blockage and making them feel very poorly. If the turtle is well enough the vets can operate and remove the plastic. The turtle then needs a long time to recover and build up their strength again. First they are put back in the blue tanks and eventually they will be strong enough to go into the main aquarium with the other sea creatures. Again they might be here for several months before they can be released back into their natural habitats. The whole process from the initial rescue to the release can take up to a year.


Who helps look after Turtles?

Lots of research on turtles from all around the world has meant that turtles are very well looked after when they are in hospital. Vets and vet technicians can become specially trained in marine life to allow them to work with large animals such as turtles, sharks and rays. Marine Scientists do lots of research into understanding how sea creatures live and how best we can protect them and help them. Volunteers can also help local conservation charities all around the world to monitor turtle nesting sites, to help protect the vulnerable eggs and hatchlings and to rescue and look after sick and injured turtles. Maybe you would like to work with turtles one day? What job sounds interesting to you?


How do Turtles get sick?

Turtles can become sick or injured in lots of different ways.

  • Eating rubbish floating in the sea – floater syndrome
  • Getting tangled in fishing nets, lines and hooks – ghost gear
  • Getting hit by boats when the turtles are on the surface – propeller strike
  • A range of natural illnesses and parasites

Nelson’s True Story
A magnificent young humpback whale in urgent need of help was the inspiration for Nelson’s Dangerous Dive. An everyday boat trip for a group of snorkelers turned into an incredible experience when they saw a humpback whale in distress. The whale was splashing around and blowing sounds through his blowhole which caught their attention. After speeding over to discover what had happened, the rescuers were dismayed and overwhelmed to find the whale completely entangled in a near invisible monofilament gill net – a type of net used for catching large quantities of fish. The whales fins were pinned to his side and he was virtually immobile from the hundreds of metres of net entwining his body. Armed with one small knife, the rescuers faced a difficult and dangerous dilemma. Do they risk waiting over an hour for help and the whale disappearing in the meantime or do they risk their lives in trying to cut the net free.
Humpback whales can weigh up to 40 tons and reach 30 metres. Their sheer power especially up close cannot be underestimated and yet these people chose to try to free him by themselves. First they dived in to try to cut him free and after realising the scale of the problem they decided to tackle this from the boat. Leaning over with the whale submerged underneath the boat, they painstakingly started to cut the whale free with just one small knife. This was an unbelievably dangerous mission – one flick of his tail and he could capsize the boat, one powerful dive and he could pull his rescuers underwater with him. And yet, they continued with their work, desperate to try to help this one distressed whale and whom without their help would certainly die. After realising his fins were free, the whale tried to swim away yet his tail was still tangled in net, half of which was now in the boat. As he swam, he pulled the boat along behind him, his rescuers committed now to whichever direction he chose to swim in. After about half a mile, he slowed down and the people worked quickly to free the remaining net. After pulling the last strands into the boat the whale disappeared and the boat of people started to celebrate – and yet the best was still to come! The whale breached a few hundred metres away in an incredible display which lasted almost an hour. No one on the boat was left in any doubt as to the reason for his display as anything other than pure joy, happiness and thanks in being alive.

How do Whales get injured or sick?
Whales are migratory animals and cover huge distances in the open ocean. Very little is known about their lives and there is often few chances for interaction with humans except for when a whale is injured or sick.
There are several key reasons why whales become sick or injured:
Directly eating rubbish floating in the sea – ocean plastic
Eating many smaller animals which have already eaten plastic rubbish – ocean plastic
Getting tangled in fishing nets, lines and hooks – ghost gear
Becoming stranded on beaches due to existing illness or tide/currents/echo location – strandings
Getting hit by boats when the whales are on the surface
A range of natural illnesses and parasites

Marli’s True Story
The little puffin which inspired the story of Marli was discovered by a Whitby Whale Watching boat in 2017 floating in the open ocean. The boat operators saw a commotion in the water and after going over to investigate they were horrified to discover a small puffin swimming around in circles with metres of ribbon tangled around her attached to three half deflated balloons. They were able to scoop her up in a net and after several minutes of careful cutting, with a whole crowd of onlookers, the puffin was released back over the side of the boat and happily flew away.

The puffin in Marli’s story is not quite so lucky and needs a bit more care from people at the Wildlife Sanctuary. Many types of animals are brought here to recover from a whole variety of illnesses and injuries but sadly more and more wildlife is being brought in after eating or getting caught in balloons and ribbons.
It is not just seabirds that are affected by this form of litter, any animal can be in trouble from local woodland animals such as owls, foxes and rabbits, to domestic animals like cows, horses and sheep to all types of marine creatures, in particular sea turtles who often mistake burst balloons for jellyfish.
Wildlife Sanctuaries are temporary or permanent homes for animals with the hope that most can be released back into their natural environment after a period of recovery and rehabilitation. Sometimes the animals require a high level of care or in the case of Marli, a few days of rest and food are all that is needed before their release.

Who helps looks after injured Wildlife?

There are thousands of rescue centres and wildlife sanctuaries around the world which rely mainly on donations and a network of dedicated volunteers to help care for sick and injured wildlife. Specially trained staff are on hand 24 hours a day to provide short and long term care – often with very limited resources. The ultimate goal for wildlife who find themselves in need of treatment is to be released back into their natural environment – preferably close to where they were found and this is luckily what happened with Marli in the story. Please help support these vital sanctuaries wherever you can either by donating food, blankets, money etc or in volunteering your time to help directly by looking after the animals or offering your time to help fundraise, pick up donations or do conservation work.

How does our Wildlife get sick?
All wildlife can become sick or injured in lots of different ways in our oceans.
Directly eating rubbish floating in the sea – ocean plastic
Getting tangled in balloon litter – balloon releases
Getting tangled in fishing nets, lines and hooks – ghost gear
Eating many smaller animals which have already eaten plastic rubbish – ocean plastic
Getting injured by boats when animals are on the surface – propeller strike
A range of natural illnesses and parasites