The animal rescue and recovery team at Mote Marine Laboratory recently received $12,104 from the Sea Turtle Grants Program to purchase a new boat that will enhance Mote’s response to distressed sea turtles, dolphins and whales and enable new research about the threats they face.
The funds helped purchase a 13-foot Boston Whaler for Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program — the 24-hour response service for sick, injured and stranded sea turtles, dolphins and small whales in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Between 2003 and 2013, Mote responded to 697 sea turtles — the most common stranded marine animals locally — and 30 percent of cases during the past year required a marine vessel. Animals found alive are brought to Mote’s hospitals for treatment, while those recovered dead are given a thorough necropsy (animal autopsy). Findings are provided to state and federal wildlife managers and help fuel cutting-edge science.
While Mote has several multi-use research vessels and works closely with wildlife officials to address each stranding quickly, having a powerboat dedicated to the Stranding Investigations Program allows even more efficient responses at all hours.
“Speed is essential whether the animal is reported dead or alive,” said Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. “For living animals entangled in fishing gear, a swift response may be all that saves them from drowning with the rising tide or exhausting their energy reserves. For an animal that has recently died, an hour in the Florida heat can make a major difference in how much their tissues have decomposed — and in turn, how much we can learn from examining them. This new vessel allows for a quicker, more efficient response, and the boat’s shallow draft means it can go virtually anywhere.”
Mote’s new boat will also allow scientists to develop new research studies to document boat traffic and monitor for sea turtles in Sarasota Bay. Their goal is to look for hot spots where boat strikes on turtles happens most frequently. Mote is seeking additional funds for this project online at mote.org/donate.
About 25-30 percent of all animals rescued or recovered by Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program bear signs of boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear or other human interactions. Mote’s response and research efforts provide vital data to resource managers working to protect marine mammals and sea turtles while supporting public education to help humans safely share their environment.
Mote — an independent, nonprofit marine science institution — can only provide these vital services with funding from competitive grants and support from the community.
In this case, Mote purchased its new boat at a substantial discount from Marine Max Sarasota, located on City Island. Marine Max accepted a trade-in of older equipment and worked closely with Mote staff to significantly reduce costs.
“We are very grateful to Marine Max for helping us get exactly the vessel we needed for the funds we had available, and we are deeply thankful to the Sea Turtle Grants Program for making all of this possible with their generous grant,” Lovewell said.
Iain Stephenson from Marine Max Sarasota worked with Lovewell and her team to find the right boat to suit their needs. “This is an absolutely incredible program designed to help those animals who need it most and who cannot ask for our help,” Stephenson said. “I was ecstatic to help the Stranding Investigations team from Mote.”