Mote Marine Laboratory is proud to look back on 2014: a year filled with extraordinary stories of marine science, conservation, animal rescues, public education and more.
In 2015, Mote will celebrate its 60th anniversary. In 1955, Mote's founding "Shark Lady," Dr. Eugenie Clark, started the one-room laboratory that has grown into the Mote we know today: home to nearly 200 staff and 24 diverse research programs focused on conservation and sustainable use of our oceans, along with education programs and the public Mote Aquarium, which help local-to-international audiences become more ocean literate.
We anticipate that 2015 will bring exciting news from the get-go — please stay tuned.
First, it is time to celebrate 2014:
This year, Mote's science team added two Ph.D. researchers and a third is expected this month, for a total of 35 postdoctoral scientists. Mote researchers produced 71 scientific publications, including peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and book chapters. Another 14 publications are in review. In addition, 117 technical reports were published by Mote.
Mote Aquarium educated more than 300,000 visitors and announced that a new limited-time exhibit will launch on Feb. 14, 2015: "Oh Baby! Life Cycles of the Seas."
Mote's education programs served more than 25,000 people of all ages, and its traveling exhibits and digital learning programs reached countless others. The Lab also hosted 209 college interns.
Mote's dedicated volunteers contributed 218,576 hours of service for the benefit of our oceans.
Below are Mote's 2014 stories by month, including many new updates.
Animal Rescuers Respond to Mass Stranding of Pilot Whales
Mote and multiple other partners responded to numerous stranded pilot whales that washed ashore during late January and early February in Lee and Collier counties.
The mass stranding killed 38 pilot whales and demanded a marathon response from animal caregivers and scientists called to the scene as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) nationwide Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Mote responders led and assisted with efforts to handle, transport and assess the condition of the whales, to humanely euthanize whales that were too sick to survive and to conduct necropsies (animal autopsies) to investigate why the whales stranded.
“This was one of the largest mass strandings I’ve worked on during my 15 years in the field,” said Gretchen Lovewell, Manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. “Even while we were all sad to see the animals in distress, it was inspiring to see how all of the organizations joined forces and rolled up their sleeves.”
Update: On May 14, Mote staff and other responders were honored with a special award for their “extraordinary efforts” during the mass stranding. NOAA officials presented awards to Mote and other Florida-based responders during the biennial conference of the Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network held in Orlando, Fla.
Blair Mase, NOAA’s Southeast Stranding Coordinator, presented awards to the stranding responders and said she was inspired by their teamwork. “The efforts and collaborative spirit of our agency partners are invaluable and make it possible for these types of large scale responses to happen.”
Other partners honored by NOAA for their roles in the Southwest Florida pilot whale strandings included: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Southwest Field Laboratory and Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, University of Florida, Marine Animal Rescue Society and Marine Mammal Conservancy.
Study Sheds New Light on Biology of Nesting in World’s Largest Sea Turtle Species
The largest-ever study of blood proteins in leatherbacks — Earth’s largest sea turtle — was released in February by Mote, revealing some of the fascinating biology behind one of nature’s most demanding life cycles.
Leatherbacks feed on jellyfish — nature’s low-calorie Jell-O — but they eat enough of them to power a migration thousands of miles long, from feeding grounds to nesting beaches. Scientists initially believed the turtles had to feed at their nesting sites too, but recent physiology research by others has suggested that leatherbacks nesting in French Guiana are fasting, living on stored energy.
This new study, led by a Mote scientist and published in the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Physiology, used the most detailed analysis of blood proteins in leatherbacks to date to confirm that another population at St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands fasts while nesting, strengthening the emerging picture of the leatherback life cycle. More results also show how fasting and migration may affect the turtles’ bodies. These findings provide vital information for resource managers seeking to protect this endangered species.
Tea for the Sea Launches Giving Circle, Features Ocean Celeb
A special Tea for the Sea on Feb. 21 launched Mote’s new Women’s Giving Circle, which is uniting women in philanthropy for the pursuit of science. Guests at the Tea met ocean hero Dr. Sylvia Earle, who launched into her remarks with: “Mote Marine Laboratory rocks!”
Earle’s enthusiasm drew applause from the 150 attendees who gathered at the Longboat Key Club’s Harbourside Dining Room to celebrate marine research and learn more about the Women’s Giving Circle. All proceeds from the Tea support the world-class marine science of Mote.
Guests mingled with Mote scientists and Mote Trustees like Earle and her famous mentor, Mote Founder Dr. Eugenie Clark. Clark started the Lab in 1955 thanks to the philanthropy of Anne Vanderbilt and her husband.
“Genie’s passion was the foundation of Mote, and the philanthropy of Anne Vanderbilt gave her the freedom to pursue it,” said Mote President and CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby. “Today, Genie’s passion has blossomed into our many diverse research programs, and more than 50 percent of our science staff are women.”
Mote sincerely thanks Event Chair Kimberley Carreiro.
Mark your calendar: Mote’s next Tea for the Sea will take place on Feb. 27, 2015. For details, sponsorships and tickets, contact Erin Knievel at email@example.com or 941-388-4441, ext. 415.
Mote’s Breakfast of Champions
Mote’s Annual Legacy Society Recognition Breakfast on Feb. 27 celebrated donors who have included the Lab in their estate plans.
“Mote was founded on three principles: passion, philanthropy and partnership,” Mote President and CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, told guests gathered at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. “We had the passion of a young woman — Genie Clark — for her science. We had the philanthropy of Anne and William Vanderbilt, who built the one-room lab where Mote started and, later the philanthropy of William Mote who helped us grow. And, of course, we have our partnership with the community, which feels very much a part of Mote and has supported us over time.
“But what we’re really celebrating today is the future. It’s important to realize that the Legacy Society is really about the future of Mote — Mote would not exist without you all and your commitment to Mote. Thank you all very much.”
The keynote speech during the breakfast was given by Veronica Brady, Senior Vice President for Philanthropy at Gulf Coast Community Foundation, who is herself a member of Mote’s Legacy Society. “We’re huge believers in legacy and we’re huge believers in Mote,” she said. “That’s why Jay and I made the decision to include Mote in our philanthropic plans. Strong communities are built on endowed philanthropy, which is built on community generosity. Now, we are part of a Legacy family at Mote and we think that gives us a connection to the past, present and future.”
Great White Shark Breaks Record
Lydia the great white shark is aboard the M/V OCEARCH during the March 2013 expedition in Jacksonville.
Lydia, a 2,000-pound great white shark, broke scientific records in March when she was tracked swimming across the mid-Atlantic ridge — the first trans-Atlantic journey documented for her species.
Dr. Robert Hueter of Mote knows Lydia well — he collected biological samples from her during an expedition led by OCEARCH in March 2013 off Jacksonville, Fla. Lydia was lifted out of the water by a special platform aboard the M/V OCEARCH, where a team of scientists had a unique opportunity to work with her. Dr. Nick Whitney of Mote tagged Lydia for a short time with a fine-scale motion sensor, which showed that she was swimming strongly after release. Dr. Greg Skomal of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and Hueter of Mote fitted her with a long-lasting satellite transmitter to monitor her position.
Since then, Lydia has truly impressed the team of scientists who joined the OCEARCH expedition. Departing Jacksonville, she swam northeast in a winding course of 19,500 miles, and on March 9 she crossed the mid-Atlantic ridge — a boundary between tectonic plates running roughly down the middle of the Atlantic ocean.
Update: As of Dec. 17, 2014, Lydia was in the western Atlantic Ocean offshore of the border where Maine meets Canada. Track Lydia via the OCEARCH web site: http://www.ocearch.org/
Baby Octopuses Seen ‘Round the World
Baby Caribbean pygmy octopuses (Octopus mercatoris) raised by Brian Siegel at Mote Aquarium gained thousands of fans after Mote released a picture of one octopus “dancing” on a pencil eraser. The octopuses were highlighted in Scientific American, on NBC's TODAY show and even in news stories overseas.
In April, Siegel also began raising baby Caribbean reef octopuses (Octopus briareus).
The babies of both species hatched from eggs produced by wild female octopuses. Octopuses are notoriously difficult to raise from egg to adult, and aquariums are generally not able to breed them.
At Mote, Siegel’s goal is to learn more about octopus care and biology while helping others learn too. He hopes to support scientific and public knowledge of the species.
Update: Seven of the Caribbean pygmy octopuses born in March are living in the “Closer Look Nook” display at Mote Aquarium, and seven more are living behind the scenes. They have reached adulthood — roughly the size of silver dollars. Siegel continues to experiment with ways to display these animals, which are cryptic, nocturnal and fond of hiding. While they have yet to become exhibit “stars,” they are honored guests at Mote for many reasons.
“We’re learning tons about them and how they live in aquariums, since we’ve been able to watch them from day one,” Siegel said. “We’ll get to continue observing their lifelong behavior patterns and see how their lifespan plays out in an aquarium setting.” Caribbean pygmy and Caribbean reef octopuses each live about 12 to 18 months in the wild.
The Caribbean reef octopuses hatched in April, which are a larger species, are now adolescents the size of softballs. Two live behind the scenes at Mote, and Siegel has shared a handful more with colleagues at other public aquariums — an opportunity for others to advance their knowledge about this species.
5th Annual Florida Keys Ocean Festival Boosts Coral Restoration and Research
Mote’s 5th Annual Florida Keys Ocean Festival on March 29 was the Lab’s largest celebration to date benefiting coral reefs — vital ocean ecosystems facing worldwide threats.
The Festival, at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, drew more than 7,500 visitors, hosted more than 100 vendors and educational exhibits and raised $54,000 to help Mote restore and study coral reefs, with a focus on the Florida Keys. During the Festival, marine artist Wyland created 10 unique Chinese brush paintings for an auction that raised $24,000, which was split 50-50 between the Wyland Foundation and Mote’s Protect Our Reefs program.
During the Festival, the 2nd Annual Tuna Trot Race for the Reef, a 5K sponsored by Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, drew 391 runners and contributed to the funds raised by the event.
Updates: The 6th Annual Florida Keys Ocean Festival will take place on April 4, 2015. Learn more at: http://keysoceanfest.org/
Register for the next Tuna Trot race, also on April 4.
Help reefs any time: You can support the future of our oceans by purchasing a Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate. $25 from the sale of each plate helps fund Mote programs that protect and restore Florida’s coral reefs. When you purchase a Protect Our Reefs plate as a gift for your friend or loved one, Mote will send them a free gift package that includes Tervis Tumblers, two-for-one passes to Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, a T-shirt, discounts on fishing tackle and much more. Visit: www.reefplate.com
Sharks Sense Prey in Surprising Ways, According to Major Study
How sharks hunt prey — from the first whiff to the final chomp — was revealed as never before in a new study about shark senses that was supported by the National Science Foundation and published April 2 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.
The study, led by scientists from Mote, the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa and Boston University, was the first to show how vision, touch, smell and other senses combine to guide a detailed series of animal behaviors from start to finish. Results show that sharks with different lifestyles may favor different senses, and they can sometimes switch when their preferred senses are blocked. That’s hopeful news for sharks trying to find food in changing, sometimes degraded environments.
Understanding how sharks sense and interact with their environment is vital for sustaining populations of these marine predators, which support the health of oceans around the world. Overfishing is the greatest known threat, but pollution and other environmental changes may affect the natural signals that sharks need for hunting and other key behaviors.
Mote's 28th Run for the Turtles Makes Great Strides for Endangered Species
More than 800 runners and walkers hit the beach to help endangered and threatened sea turtles during Mote’s 28th Run for the Turtles on April 5 at Siesta Public Beach.
The Run, which includes a 5K sanctioned by the Manasota Track club and a 1-mile fun-run/walk, has provided major support for Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program, which has coordinated sea turtle conservation for 33 years along 35 miles of Sarasota County beaches. Mote scientists and volunteers in Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol monitor sea turtle nesting each day during nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31.
The Run, a joint effort between Mote, the Manasota Track Club and Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, raises funds to help Mote scientists study and protect sea turtles, which are considered threatened or endangered under federal law.
Overall male winner: Kyle Donovan, age 28, time: 17:52
Overall female winner: Heather Butcher, age 41, time: 18:52
1-Mile Fun Run/Walk winners:
Male winner: Dylan Hull, age 14, time: 7:12
Female winner: Grace Bridgeman, age 10, time: 8:35
Read the full story here.
Read about the results of the 2014 sea turtle nesting season: Scroll down to October.
Learn about a new way for young people to help sea turtles from now into April 2015: Scroll down to October.
Mote Honors Volunteers for Decades of Dedication
Mote honored its volunteers — including two who have served for 30 years — recognized its entire volunteer corps for donating hundreds of thousands of hours during 2013 and bid a fond farewell to its retiring volunteer director on April 10 during the Lab’s annual Volunteer Awards Ceremony.
In 2013, the Lab had 1,600 volunteers who contributed over 250,000 hours of service. Volunteers are the lifeblood of Mote, supporting everything from cutting-edge marine science and education to administration offices and outreach programs.
During the Ceremony, Mote President and CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby and Mote staff presented awards to 30-year volunteers Bob Wiegand and Pauline Becker, along with several other volunteers who have served for 25 years, 15, 10, five, three and one. Volunteers who had served more than 4,000 hours total during their lifetime also received the national President’s Volunteer Service Award. During the celebration, Mote volunteers and staff also bid a fond farewell to Lisa Kinsella, who retired as Mote’s volunteer leader after serving as a Mote employee for seven years and previously volunteering for Mote for four and a half years.
Update: In December, Mote announced that Robert Rogers — a skilled professional in volunteer management who is committed to environmental conservation — has been selected as Mote’s new Director of Volunteer Resources.
Rogers came to Mote after serving since 2011 as Director of Volunteer Services at Feeding America Southwest Virginia. He also has ties to Sarasota. From 2009-2011 he was a Program Specialist in the volunteer department of John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and in 2005 and 2006 he worked with Sarasota’s Senior Friendship Centers.
Learn more about Rogers here.
Tagged Great White Sharks Visit Gulf
A great white shark nicknamed “Betsy” and tagged for research off Cape Cod was tracked about 63 miles off Boca Grande, Fla., on April 25.
In the weeks that followed, another tagged great white shark nicknamed “Katharine” was also tracked in the Gulf of Mexico.
Betsy and Katharine were each fitted with multiple scientific tags during a team expedition led by the organization OCEARCH in August 2013 off Cape Cod. The scientific team included Drs. Bob Hueter and Nick Whitney from Mote’s Congressionally designated Center for Shark Research along with scientists from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and many other researchers and institutions.
Betsy was the first white shark from the OCEARCH-led expeditions in the Atlantic to be tracked into the Gulf.
“Every movement they make has the potential to surprise us and teach us something new,” Hueter said. “We have known for awhile that white sharks enter the Gulf of Mexico, but knowing exactly where they go and when depends on doing more research like this.”
People around the globe have been following the sharks’ migrations online. On June 19 the sharks were featured on NBC’s TODAY when the show included an interview with Hueter.
Update: On Nov. 21, Betsy was tracked offshore of Delaware. On Dec. 9, Katharine was closer to shore, near Falmouth, Mass.
U.S. and Israeli Scientists Partner on International Ocean Initiatives
Mote and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (IUI) in Eilat, Israel, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on May 2 that will lead to new research endeavors designed to understand the impacts that climate change will have on coral reefs and find ways to restore and protect reefs worldwide.
This new research partnership will also support research on ocean acidification, the ecology of sharks and butterflyfish, marine biomedicine and many other key subjects shared by these two world-class marine science organizations.
“Our long history of working with Israeli scientists is bringing about significant benefits for our oceans and for marine science, and these team efforts stand ready to achieve even greater results because of this new agreement,” said Mote President and CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby.
In the 1950s, before Mote founder Dr. Eugenie Clark earned world renown as the “Shark Lady,” she studied fishes in the Red Sea — where vibrant coral reefs entice divers from around the world and where, today, Mote science is unfolding in exciting new ways.
Mote’s President and CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, has worked closely with top Israeli researchers since 1994. He led U.S., Israeli and Jordanian partners in the Red Sea Marine Peace Park Cooperative Research, Monitoring and Management Program — an effort to protect coral reefs that support thousands of species in the Gulf of Aqaba. Dr. Crosby is also a former chairman of the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation Board of Governors and has served on the Board since he was appointed by the U.S. State Department in 2002.
On May 2, Dr. Crosby and Dr. Amatzia Genin, Director of the IUI, signed the agreement at the IUI in Eilat. The signing ceremony took place during a historic trip back to the Red Sea with Mote founder Dr. Clark, as she celebrated her 92nd birthday.
Giving Challenge Makes a Difference for Mote
The May 6 Giving Challenge raised vital funds for hundreds of Southwest Florida nonprofits. Mote received an amazing $109,960 through the Challenge, with help from two anonymous donors who provided $50,000 in matching funds.
The 2014 Giving Challenge was presented by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County in partnership with The Patterson Foundation, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, and the Charlotte Community Foundation. The Herald-Tribune Media Group, ClearChannel Radio and SNN Local News joined the effort to promote the power of giving during the event.
Mote — an independent, nonprofit marine science institution — offers a huge THANKS to everyone who supported the Lab and, in turn, gave back to the sea.
Sarasota Chamber Declares Mote Finalist for Non-Profit of the Year
Mote was declared a finalist for Non-Profit Organization of the Year in the The Frank G. Berlin, Sr. Small Business Awards administered by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
The Awards, in their 24th year during 2014, recognize Chamber member businesses and individuals with locally owned and operated business in eight categories.
Mote, which won the Chamber's Cultural Organization of the Year Award in 2013, was declared a finalist for the Non-Profit Organization of the Year Award for 2014 along with Goodwill Industries-Manasota, Inc. and U.S. Masters Swimming.
This year’s Non-Profit Organization of the Year award was presented on June 13 to Goodwill Industries-Manasota, Inc.
Mote’s Animal Hospitals Thank Sara Roberts Foundation for Grant
Mote announced in June that the Lab received a grant of nearly $106,000 from the Sara Roberts Foundation to support rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals. The funds were provided for operating support and helping purchase equipment for Mote’s hospitals for dolphins, whales and sea turtles.
This is the third grant awarded to Mote’s animal hospitals by the Sara Roberts Foundation, a Sarasota-based family foundation that supports animal protection and welfare.
"We would like to thank Mote for the invaluable service that it provides our community,” said George Famiglio, Jr., Trustee of the Sara Roberts Foundation. “All cherish Sarasota’s aquatic life and its ecosystems — these are things that we must respect if we are to continue to enjoy them.”
Mote’s animal hospitals have treated 70 dolphins and whales since 1992 and more than 450 sea turtles since 1995.
World Environment Day Culminates at Mote
The global celebration World Environment Day (WED) capped off its 2014 North American festivities in Sarasota County during a standing-room-only community forum on June 5 at Mote, where one message rang loud and clear: WED came to the right community.
Sarasota County was selected as the North American host for WED by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which leads this global celebration each year in six regions worldwide. The county received this honor thanks to the environmentally sound practices of local residents, government, organizations and businesses, and local WED partners celebrated with more than 55 events leading up to June 5.
On June 5, more than 120 people filled the New Pass Room at Mote — a local marine science institution known internationally for advancing research, education and conservation — to hear from local and international experts about the environmental opportunities and challenges facing Sarasota County and other coastal communities around the world. The event filled to capacity and also drew a wider audience through streaming video on the web and on TV via Access Sarasota.
Florida Legislator Wowed by Mote's Coral Research in the Keys
State Rep. Holly Merrill Raschein, R-Key Largo, visited Mote’s Tropical Research Laboratory on Summerland Key — and went diving in Mote’s coral restoration nursery — on June 6 to learn how Mote is studying and restoring coral reefs, especially in the Florida Keys. Raschein said she came away educated and inspired.
“Mote’s Tropical Research Lab is absolutely incredible,” Raschein said. “The groundbreaking research Mote has been able to produce with limited resources in their lab on Summerland Key is amazing. Their multifaceted research approach and big-picture focus foretells a bright future for our reefs.”
During her visit, Raschein toured Mote’s land-based lab facilities with Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote’s President and CEO, Dr. Dave Vaughan, Executive Director of Mote’s Tropical Research Lab, and Erich Bartels, Staff Scientist. Next she joined the Mote team for a dive in Mote’s offshore coral nursery near Looe Key, where threatened staghorn and elkhorn corals, along with other key reef-building species, are grown on monofilament lines dangling from underwater PVC “trees.”
Coral research and restoration are among the many strengths that have earned Mote international recognition as a leading independent, nonprofit marine science and education institution. Mote’s coral programs depend a great deal on support from Florida communities, especially through sales of the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate (www.reefplate.com).
Mote’s President Hops into Shark Exhibit for World Oceans Day
Mote's President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, took a dip in the shark exhibit during the World Oceans Day Family Festival on June 7 in Mote Aquarium.
Crosby swam among bonnethead sharks in the SharkTracker exhibit to celebrate oceans, allowing visitors to take their pictures alongside him outside the exhibit window.
World Oceans Day at Mote is part of a global celebration that spotlights the ocean's deep connection to the human spirit and the boundless inspirational power of our natural world's greatest resource. World Oceans Day, officially celebrated on June 8, was created in 1992 at the Earth Summit and declared a holiday by the United Nations in 2009. Here at Mote, we make a big splash each year.
Official sponsors of World Oceans Day are Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Ocean Project, Dr. Seuss and Random House Children's Books. Sponsors of Mote's 2014 event include: Critter Ridge Landscape Contractors, Herald-Tribune Media Group, Insurance & Benefits Consultants (IBC) and Sam's Club.
Mark your calendar: The next World Oceans Day Family Festival will take place on June 6, 2015 at Mote Aquarium.
Sea Turtle Rescued by Coast Guard Gets TLC at Mote Marine Lab
A sea turtle rescued by the Coast Guard on June 15 one mile off Longboat Pass was brought to Mote to be treated for boat-strike injuries. This turtle’s story serves as a reminder to watch out for marine animals while boating and to report animals in distress.
A member of the public reported the turtle to Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector St. Petersburg, who quickly mobilized a marine vessel for the rescue and notified Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program — a 24 hour response service for marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota and Manatee counties — that they would bring the turtle ashore. The 230-pound female loggerhead turtle had an unidentified sharp object sticking out of her shell and was unable to dive. Coast Guard officials lifted the turtle aboard their boat, cradled her atop a large rubber tire and delivered her to the boat ramp at Ken Thompson Park, near Mote.
Mote staff received the turtle in their truck, and with Coast Guard officials assisting, transported the turtle to Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Coast Guard asked to nickname the turtle “Mrs. Turt Lee” after their supervisor, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Ekahi Lee.
Update: As of Dec. 22, Mrs. Turt Lee is healing well and moving along toward recovery, but the turtle will likely need to remain in Mote’s hospital for several more months before returning to the wild.
Dolphin Death is a Reminder to Protect Marine Life
One of the oldest dolphins in Sarasota Bay died on June 7 after ingesting fishing gear. This loss serves as a reminder to protect marine life while enjoying our coastal waters year ‘round.
The 58-year-old female dolphin nicknamed “Squiggy” was recovered dead and examined by staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Squiggy was emaciated and she had three large fishing hooks in her stomach and one in her mouth that was attached to 11 feet of heavy monofilament line, along with healed scars from previous entanglements. She was known to spend time near Venice, including areas with frequent boat traffic.
Squiggy was first identified in September 1980 and was documented 267 times since then by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) – a collaboration between Mote Marine Lab and Chicago Zoological Society. SDRP staff have continued monitoring Squiggy’s descendants, who have also suffered impacts from human interactions. Squiggy’s daughter died in 2012 from ingesting recreational fishing gear, and the daughter’s 6-month-old calf died several weeks later after losing her mother. Squiggy’s first grand-calf died from entanglement in a crab trap’s float line.
Mote’s President Joins SCUBAnauts, Local Seafood Pioneers at Capitol Hill Ocean Week
Mote’s President and CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, attended the leadership awards dinner during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) in June in Washington, D.C.
There, he had a chance to meet some budding Florida scientists who are members of SCUBAnauts International’s St. Pete and Tarpon Springs Chapters. SCUBAnauts allows young men and women ages 12 through 18 to get involved in marine science through underwater marine research activities to build character, promote active citizenship and develop effective leadership skills.
CHOW also featured caviar and sturgeon raised by Mote during the 39th Annual NOAA Fish Fry in D.C. This annual food-lovers’ event showcases sustainable seafood from various regions throughout the U.S. during a reception that draws more than 1,200 guests, including scientists, government officials, congressional members and seafood enthusiasts. The Florida showcase featured sustainable seafood produced at Mote’s 200-acre farm located in eastern Sarasota County.
During the NOAA Fish Fry, Crosby was joined by Ed Chiles and Seth Cripe. Chiles is the owner of the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants (the Chiles Restaurant Group) on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Cripe is the winemaker and majority owner of Lola Wines, where Chiles is also a partner. Chiles and Cripe also own and operate the Anna Maria Fish Company — the first in the U.S. that is certified to process bottarga. Bottarga is a delicacy made from the roe of the region’s gray striped mullet that is salt-cured and sun-dried.
Update: In November, Mote announced the sale of the nonprofit organization’s Siberian sturgeon and caviar operation to Southeast Venture Holdings, LLC (Seven Holdings). Scroll down to November section for more information.
Mote Remembers “Bone Lady” Ruth DeLynn: 1926-2014
Ruth DeLynn, the creator and curator of one of the most important and extensive collections of dolphin and whale bones in the nation, died on July 8 following a long-term illness.
DeLynn, fondly known as “The Bone Lady,” was a volunteer and adjunct scientist at Mote for 30 years. She created the bone collection and curated it — meticulously cleaning and preserving the skeletons of dolphins and whales so that they may be used in further studies necessary to unlock the cryptic lives of these animals. The collection was officially named the Ruth DeLynn Cetacean Osteological Collection in her honor in 2007.
The Collection, which is highlighted in a Mote Aquarium exhibit, is a key element of Mote’s “cradle to grave” philosophy of studying dolphins and whales that includes the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program — which focuses on understanding the lives of the 160 resident dolphins living in Sarasota Bay — and the Stranding Investigations Program, which recovers stranded cetaceans and performs detailed necropsies to determine cause of death.
Mote and FWC Track Offshore Red Tide
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported in late July that a bloom of Florida red tide was confirmed in water samples collected offshore of Hernando County, in the area of a large fish kill. Satellite images initially suggested the bloom was 80 miles long and 50 miles wide and was 40-90 miles offshore between Dixie and Pasco counties.
Mote scientists immediately geared up to learn more about the bloom and the physical conditions surrounding it by conducting water sampling surveys and launching autonomous underwater vehicles (also known as AUVs or underwater robots).
Mote — an independent nonprofit marine lab with decades of experience studying Florida red tide — worked closely with FWC — Florida’s wildlife agency responsible for monitoring and studying red tide blooms around the state — in their ongoing Cooperative Red Tide Program to monitor and study the bloom. The team effort also included the University of South Florida (USF) and other partners.
Updates (updated Dec. 23):
Bloom concentrations of red tide algae, Karenia brevis, were reported for months due to the July bloom in the northeastern Gulf and then a second bloom reported in October in Southwest Florida. While red tide has dissipated in the Southwest Florida and Northwest Florida regions, Dec. 17 samples from Mote showed very low to medium concentrations of red tide algae along and offshore of Monroe County. Future updates will be posted at: MyFWC.com/redtidestatus.
Mote research contributes to the statewide updates and to forecasting efforts by FWC and USF partners, while also providing vital data to expand our understanding of Florida red tide.
During this year's blooms, Mote scientists led or participated in 20 sampling trips by boat and collected about 775 samples, including some meant to be analyzed for 25 different variables.
In addition, Mote scientists deployed the underwater robot Waldo on a joint mission with a robot from USF to monitor the bloom — one of six missions Mote’s robot carried out in 2014. Missions generally last about 30 days allow the robots’ payloads to collect frequent data points about the presence or absence of Florida red tide and environmental conditions that might influence it. Mote robots typically carry the “optical phytoplankton discriminator,” or “BreveBuster” designed by a Mote scientist to detect red tide algae.
Findings from 2014 will feed into long-term studies about the biology, ecology and other dynamics of red tide blooms.
Read about a major red tide study published in 2014, based on earlier blooms:s: Scroll to November section.
Mote Creates Reef Restoration Site as Remembrance for Fallen Warriors
Volunteers from SCUBAnauts International, the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and Gold Star Teen Adventures joined Mote scientists in Mote’s underwater coral nursery for a critical mission this summer: coral reef restoration.
Working with Mote scientists, these volunteers helped plant threatened staghorn corals in a special restoration site near Looe Key over two weeks in July. By the end of the mission, the groups planted 850 coral fragments and helped to create another 2,300 fragments that will be grown in Mote’s underwater coral nursery and then planted on the reef.
The event also marked the creation of a new restoration area to honor the sacrifices of American servicemen and women set aside on a patch reef about a mile long east of Looe Key.
“Our mission with this annual project is multi-faceted,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote. “Because we have the southernmost marine research laboratory in the nation, we’re ideally situated with both location and technical expertise to launch major initiatives to restore the only barrier reef in the continental U.S. Expanding our unique Mote-Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge-Gold Star Teens-SCUBAnauts ‘citizen scientists’ partnership also exemplifies our dedication to helping the public understand ocean ecosystems and in supporting the next generation of scientists. But the most rewarding aspect of this project goes even further by offering us at Mote an opportunity to thank our veterans.”
Read the full story here.
New Project Working toward Conservation of Dugongs in Malaysia
A new project under way in Malaysia is focused on a vulnerable population of dugongs — marine mammals related to manatees — with the goal of using findings to help save the nation’s dwindling population and improve human health along the way.
Mote scientists began collecting environmental samples in August with project leader Dr. Louisa Ponnampalam, a research fellow at the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Malaya and co-founder of the nonprofit MareCet Research Organization. Ponnampalam is conducting a three-year health risk assessment of her nation’s dugong population and working to help increase grassroots and management support for protecting the species.
Mote and MareCet are members of the International Consortium for Marine Conservation (ICMC) — a coalition of aquariums, zoos and governmental and nongovernmental organizations hosted by Mote. The ICMC is dedicated to moving marine science from the lab and into the field, where research findings can be used to directly address threats to species and their habitats.
Dugongs, (Dugong dugon) are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, an international organization that establishes the conservation status of species. But some dugong populations, like the one in Malaysia, are at a locally higher risk of extinction.
“We estimate that there are on the order of tens of dugongs left in Malaysia today,” said Dr. John Reynolds, director of the ICMC. “And their population centers seem to be located in areas that we think puts them at great risk from a number of different causes.”
“Our work in other marine mammal populations here in Florida and in Alaska and other parts of the world suggests that contaminants are a problem — contaminants in the marine environment are ubiquitous,” said Dr. Dana Wetzel, Manager of Mote’s Environmental Laboratory for Forensics.
“We do not know the magnitude of the threats that dugongs face,” said Ponnampalam, whose aerial surveys suggest that dugongs use some habitats that are not protected, including areas with coastal development and a growing presence of the oil and gas industry. “Through this health risk assessment, we will be assessing the habitats in different areas, particularly the sea grasses, and comparing the populations in different areas.”
Samples taken in August include seagrasses and sediments, which Wetzel will analyze in her lab for contaminants.
Assessing the dugong’s health risks are only part of the equation. “Ultimately, we want to translate this into something meaningful,” Reynolds says. “Many of the communities in Malaysia are subsistence communities. And if the dugongs are being exposed to contaminants, then so are the people.”
Mote Scientist Honored by International Shark Research Society
In August, shark researchers placed Mote scientist Dr. Carl Luer in their “hall of fame.” The American Elasmobranch Society (AES) presented its Distinguished Fellow Award to Luer, who studies disease-fighting traits of sharks and rays to support the quest for better human medical care.
AES is the international level, professional society for those who study sharks and their relatives the skates, rays, guitarfish and sawfish — a group of fishes called elasmobranchs. Members include college and university faculty and students, scientific staff at government agencies and museums, conservation biologists, biologists at public aquariums throughout the world and scientists at independent marine research institutions, such as Mote.
The AES Distinguished Fellow Award is presented by AES representatives to one of their members through a nomination and review process that takes months. The award recognizes career accomplishments that have contributed significantly to the knowledge and understanding of sharks and their relatives.
Luer and his colleagues have taken shark research in surprising and promising new directions.
“While the AES honorees so far have focused mainly on whole animals, our main focus is biochemistry – in particular, we’re doing biomedical research to understand what sharks and rays can teach us about resisting disease,” said Luer, manager of the Marine Biomedical Research Program at Mote. “For a long time, people have reported that these animals rarely get cancer, and their wounds heal very quickly and without infection. Through years of study, we have demonstrated that these animals do have unusual healing abilities, and we have made tremendous progress toward understanding some of the reasons why.”
Hatchery-Reared Snook Released into Sarasota Bay
On Aug. 15, scientists from Mote and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released hatchery-reared juvenile snook into the wild as part of an ongoing program designed to find the most effective methods to replenish and enhance wild snook populations.
The species is one of Florida’s most popular sport fish and plays an important role in drawing recreational anglers to the state. According to the American Sportfishing Association, Florida is the top-ranked state in economic output from recreational fishing, which draws $8.6 billion to the economy annually. Saltwater fishing alone generates 80 percent — $6.8 billion — of that income.
Snook, along with red drum, are the main test species for restocking efforts statewide. This project — which involved tagging and then releasing more than 2,200 snook into Sarasota Bay during over three days — is designed to determine whether snook that have been conditioned for release at Mote have better growth and survival rates in the wild.
Scallop Search Draws Community Together
Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Jim Culter, Mote intern Isabella Soutullo and Japanese scientist Dr. Kenji Kitamura of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature prepare to search for scallops in Sarasota Bay during the annual Scallop Search led by Sarasota Bay Watch. (Credit Mote Marine Laboratory)
The annual Scallop Search led by the nonprofit Sarasota Bay Watch tallied 40 scallops on Aug. 23, surpassing the count of 11 from 2013. The event drew more than 130 volunteers, strengthening the local community’s commitment to monitor and restore scallop populations in Sarasota Bay.
The search team included many volunteer “citizen scientists” along with Mote researchers who are co-leading local efforts to restore scallops. Mote scientist Jim Culter was joined by Dr. Kenji Kitamura from Japan’s Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN), which is documenting the local scallop restoration effort as part of a global study on science and society.
Scallops and other important species of shellfish in Florida have seriously declined due to changes such as habitat loss, pollution, dredge-and-fill operations, overharvesting and blooms of harmful algae known as red tides. To restore depleted populations in Sarasota Bay, Mote has teamed up with Sarasota Bay Watch, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sarasota County, Manatee County, Bay Shellfish Co., local business leaders and most importantly, many volunteer citizen scientists to release hatchery-raised scallops into the Bay and monitor for signs of recovery.
RIHN scientists from Japan are studying the scallop restoration partnership as part of an international study designed to find exemplary case studies of “residential research institutions” — those tied closely to their communities and positioned to exchange knowledge with local communities — working closely with grass-roots citizen groups to encourage bottom-up solutions to environmental problems.
Mote Honored for Top-notch Digital Learning Program
In August, Mote announced that its digital learning program, SeaTrek Interactive, had received the highest award in educational, interactive videoconferencing.
The CILC Pinnacle Award is given annually by the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) to organizations that receive outstanding scores on program evaluations submitted by educators. The award recognizes remarkable educational content and presentation skill.
To qualify, the provider must receive at least 2.85 average out of 3.0 on all their program evaluations during the school year.
SeaTrek Interactive has received five Pinnacle Awards and two honorable mentions since the award’s start in 2007.
Mote Aquarium Makes Top 10 List from TripAdvisor
Mote Aquarium made the Top 10 list of best U.S. aquariums from TripAdvisor, which announced their 2014 Traveler’s Choice awards in August.
The awards honor top travel spots worldwide based on the millions of reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor travelers. Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews for zoos and aquariums worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.
“For those wanting to see the world's most wondrous creatures, TripAdvisor has named the Travelers' Choice Zoos and Aquariums, as chosen by the community of millions,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “Travelers can enjoy a fun and educational experience at any of these popular award-winning attractions around the globe.”
Innovative Aquaponics Project Raises Saltwater Fish and Sea Veggies
Mote Aquaculture Park (MAP) — Mote’s sustainable fish farming research facility in eastern Sarasota County — launched a pioneering project in fall 2014 to advance marine aquaponics: farming seafood while using the wastewater to fertilize salt-loving crops.
This commercial demonstration project, funded by Florida Sea Grant and done in partnership with the University of South Florida (USF) and Morningstar Fishermen, is using eco-friendly technology developed at MAP to raise the saltwater fish species, red drum, together with plant species sea purlsane and saltwort — sea vegetables popular in European cuisine. The project aims to bring its tasty results from farm to fork, showing communities a new way to produce food locally for farmers’ markets and restaurants.
In late September, Mote staff moved the first 200 juvenile red drum into tanks inside the greenhouse, which is designed to produce about 600 fish. In early October they planted 1,100 sprigs of sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) and 1,100 of saltwort (Batis maritima) into foam rafts atop four water-filled raceways. The plants were donated by Aquatic Plants of Florida.
Read the full story here.
Update: As of late December 2014: “Both the fish and plants are growing and doing great,” said Dr. Kevan Main, manager of the Marine and Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program at Mote. USF doctoral student Suzanne Boxman, a collaborator in the project, is carefully monitoring the water chemistry throughout the system to study how nitrogen and phosphorus from fish waste moves through the system and into the plants. In February, Boxman plans to present results at the 2015 Aquaculture America conference in New Orleans, La.
National Drive Electric Week at Mote Energizes Community
Electric vehicles and other eco-friendly technologies showed their power on Sept. 20 during “Electrify the Island”: the Sarasota-based festival for the nationwide celebration National Drive Electric Week.
The event took place on the grounds of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium — a world-class marine science and education institution that launched a Sustainable Energy Initiative in 2012 to enhance the Lab’s environmentally sound practices.
The event showcased plug-in electric vehicles owned by local residents, ride-and-drive sessions and displays of electric and hybrid vehicles from BMW of Sarasota, Coast Cadillac, Gettel Nissan, Sarasota Ford, Sunset Chevrolet and Tesla, along with vendors and educational booths focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), partner in Electrify the Island and multiple Drive Electric Week events in Florida, presented its “Electric Avenue,” offering a photo op with the hybrid-electric Porsche Panamera and other activities while sharing its commitment to serve as a trusted source of information on electric vehicles for its customers.
During the event, special proclamations honoring Electrify the Island and National Drive Electric Week were presented by Thomas Harmer, Sarasota County Administrator, and Susan Chapman, Vice-Mayor for the City of Sarasota.
Mote Video Wins First-place Henry Award from VISIT FLORIDA
A video from Mote and its marketing firm, Paradise Advertising & Marketing, won a Henry Award — first prize for its category in the Flagler Awards for tourism marketing — on Sept. 22 during VISIT FLORIDA’s 47th Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
The Flagler Awards, named for Henry Flagler and established in 2000, honor individuals and organizations that help maintain and improve Florida’s position as one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.
Mote — a Sarasota-based marine Lab and public Aquarium — won the Henry Award in the Social Media Marketing category for the video “Fish Tales” created with Paradise, based in St. Petersburg. The video, which spouts elaborately wrong information about marine animals and then cheekily corrects it, makes the point that conservation begins with education.
Near-record Turtle Nesting Concludes, Research Advances
Beaches from Longboat Key through Venice hosted a near-record number of sea turtle nests in 2014, according to Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program.
Mote scientists thank all those who turned off or shielded their lights along the beach and removed obstacles to protect nesting sea turtles and hatchlings trying to reach the water throughout nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31. Mote also asks Southwest Florida residents and visitors to spread the word about keeping beaches turtle-friendly in 2015. This year, many hatchlings disoriented — lost their way to sea due to artificial lighting visible from the beach — and some adult turtles became entangled in beach furniture or other obstacles.
Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol — a group of scientists, interns and volunteers who monitor 35 miles of local nesting beaches each day of nesting season — reports that the 2014 season on Longboat Key through Venice produced: 2,448 nests from loggerhead sea turtles, nine from green sea turtles, two from Kemp’s ridleys and two nests that are being genetically tested to determine the parent species. That adds up to a grand total of 2,461 nests.
This year’s grand total is strong, finishing only nine nests short of the 33-year record total that Mote documented in 2012. This year, two parts of Mote’s area — Lido and Casey keys — surpassed their individual records.
Read the full story and see an updated table of nest counts by beach.
Updates on turtle monitoring and tagging:
Mote successfully documented and ID tagged hundreds of sea turtles coming ashore at night to nest in 2014. The leader of the tagging project, Mote Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Justin Perrault, and Mote interns encountered 459 nesting sea turtles, including 267 different individuals. They ID-tagged 228 turtles, including 190 that scientists had never before encountered on local beaches. The remaining 77 turtles were “remigrants” seen in prior years.
“Spunky,” a turtle that Mote originally ID-tagged in 1987 and later tracked with a satellite transmitter to the Florida Keys, returned to nest in Mote’s patrol area during the 2014 season. As loggerhead sea turtles can take about 30 years to mature and begin nesting, Spunky might be nearly 60 years old.
Updates on new research:
Mote Postdoctoral Fellow Perrault has been investigating whether toxins from Florida red tide, known as brevetoxins, are stored in sea turtles’ bodies and potentially passed to their eggs. The overall health impact of these toxins in turtles remains uncertain. Perrault collected samples of blood and scutes (outer coverings of a turtle's shell) from 31 nesting female loggerhead turtles in May through July 2014 along Nokomis Beach and Casey Key. All of the turtles tested positive for brevetoxin exposure, even though the last major bloom of Florida red tide was, at that time, in May 2013 — suggesting that the turtles had stored brevetoxin compounds. Perrault also analyzed six sea turtle eggs. The eggs had signs of brevetoxin exposure that corresponded to results in the blood plasma nesting females. These preliminary results suggest that nesting females may pass along red tide toxins from their fat stores to their young. Further preliminary results suggest that sea turtle hatchlings may receive brevetoxins from the egg’s yolk sac, which feeds the hatchlings as they develop in the nest. More research is needed to fully understand the impact of these "sub-lethal" levels of brevetoxin compounds. Sub-lethal levels of toxins or contaminants are not acutely deadly, but they may impact health.
Sarasota Police Help Release Hatchlings
Mote offered a big "thanks" to the Sarasota Police Department for helping Mote scientists release two of the last loggerhead turtle hatchlings rescued during the 2014 sea turtle nesting season.
On Oct. 30, Sarasota Police Marine Patrol Officer Bruce King and Officer Travis Forrister traveled with Mote Staff Biologist Karen Schanzle to release the two hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. The officers provided boat transport, as Mote is replacing its research vessel that normally transports hatchlings to the weed line — a floating mat of seaweed called Sargassum, usually located many miles offshore, where hatchlings can find shelter and food.
During the 2014 nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Hatchling Hospital received more than 2,600 hatchlings. More than 200 of those needed to receive hospital care for an extended period of time to recover from any injuries and regain their strength. These included the two turtles released on Oct. 30.
A New Way for Young People to Help Sea Turtles
Oct. 31 marked the end of sea turtle nesting season in Southwest Florida — and the start of a new opportunity for young people to support sea turtles into the coming year.
Mote, a world-class marine science organization, Positive Tracks, a national, youth-centric nonprofit, and their southwest Florida funding partner, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, are inviting people age 23 and younger to raise funds for Mote’s sea turtle conservation and research efforts in Sarasota County. Positive Tracks will match youth fundraising dollars up to $37,000.
This special opportunity is open to youth participants now and it culminates with Mote’s annual 5K fundraiser, Run for the Turtles, which will take place on April 4, 2015, on Siesta Beach in Sarasota County, Fla.
Learn more and get involved. www.mote.org/positivetracks
Nutrients That Feed Red Tide “Under the Microscope” in Major Study
In November, scientists announced that the “food” sources supporting Florida red tides are more diverse and complex than previously realized — a key result from five years’ worth of research on red tide and nutrients published as an entire special edition of the scientific journal Harmful Algae.
The multi-partner project was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program and included 14 research papers from seven institutions.
The research team studied four red tide blooms caused by the harmful algae species Karenia brevis in 2001, ’07, ’08 and ’09, plus the non-bloom year 2010. Their goal was to understand which nutrients supported these red tides and the extent to which coastal pollution might contribute, helping reveal what drives red tide in southwest Florida.
Study partners documented 12 sources of nutrients in southwest Florida waters — including some never before associated with K. brevis. Results supported the consensus that blooms start 10-40 mil