When I first came to the Outer Banks in August, I was not sure what to expect. I have grown up surrounded by water, both in Long Island, New York, and in Swansboro, North Carolina, but I had never been on the coast solely for education. So much has changed since I arrived in August, and chasing degraded sea turtle corpses stuck in the surf now seems completely normal.
As a part of my internship, which I’ll talk more about in a future blog post, I work with an organization called the Network of Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.). The non-profit group is devoted to the protection of sea turtles as well as other marine animal’s habitats. My first experience with N.E.S.T. was supposed to be a nest excavation since the turtles had hatched days before; however, I received a call on my way to Southern Shores that there was a report of a live stranded dolphin in Nags Head. I decided I would stop off in Nags Head since it was on my way, and when I arrived on the beach I walked for about half a mile until I reached a group of people. They were all surrounding this distressed spotted dolphin, who was up on the sand. Two girls were trying to calm the animal and keep him comfortable, and I quickly joined in and followed instructions. The plan was to keep the animal calm and comfortable until the biologist, my internship mentor, arrived. Onlookers would ask questions about what was going on, and we made sure they were informed of the situation. A N.E.S.T. volunteer explained that, when a dolphin comes onto shore, there is a chance that their organs were ruptured from the waves, meaning the animal would need to be euthanized. When my mentor arrived, she had the N.E.S.T. volunteers bring the dolphin further up the beach. The dolphin at hand was convulsing and curling its tail, which let my mentor know that the dolphin was sick and needed to be euthanized. She administered a vile into the animal, and I took notes on the reaction of the animal and its movements during the final moments of its life. We later took the deceased dolphin to a separate location where it would be measured and put in a freezer so that it could be transported to UNC Wilmington for educational and research purposes.
The next big move for me with N.E.S.T. involved the degraded leatherback sea turtle corpse that I mentioned earlier. My internship mentor asked me if I wanted to see something stinky, and naturally I was up for the challenge. I had to retrieve a muscle sample from this degraded mess of sea turtle and put it in a vile of alcohol. My mentor sent me alone to meet up with some lifeguards to retrieve the muscle sample. We struggled at first to bring the turtle onto shore since the corpse kept breaking apart. However, the afternoon ended successfully, and we were able to finally retrieve a muscle sample.
I’ve done other things with N.E.S.T. since being here, and I finally got to do a turtle excavation, but these two activities were my favorite and really made an impression on me. I am really excited to graduate in December, but I would not want to be doing anything different for my last semester at UNC Chapel Hill.