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Letter from the Editor

Greetings, and welcome back to another issue of Georgia Aquarium’s Research and Conservation newsletter. We are excited to bring this edition to you in our new, digital format. Please enjoy reading about some of our most recent happenings as well as the chance to revisit some old projects and get an update on the data collected.

The Georgia Aquarium Research and Conservation department is dedicated to spreading the word about ocean and human health through the One Health model. We were fortunate to have visiting lecturer, Dr. Anders Goksøyr, discuss ecotoxicology in Arctic animals, from fish to polar bears. I had the opportunity to present a presentation entitled “Marine Mammals as Sentinels for Ocean and Human Health” to a public lecture series hosted at Penn State University. Also, earlier this year, Dr. Al Dove attended the World Oceans Summit held in Bali, Indonesia where industry professionals, scientists, and political and economic leaders came together to discuss the human impact on marine pollution.

Our team members continue their field work, including nutrition studies on spotted eagle rays in Florida and more opportunities to work with sharks, including the great white, on the OCEARCH vessel. We’ll share the story of a very unique journey taken by one of our whale shark satellite tags deployed in St. Helena last year and discuss how some expeditions have the best intentions but always don’t turn out the way you planned. We’ve also included a story on a successful disentanglement operation in Florida involving a bottlenose dolphin calf and other interesting activities that Georgia Aquarium has been a part of.

And finally, we continue to publish our findings in some of the most respected scientific journals. This year was an important year for publishing data from our Bottlenose Dolphin Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) Project. Three articles have been published so far in 2017 with more in various stages of publication.

Have a safe and happy summer and we’ll be back in the fall with a new issue discussing the always exciting and busy summer field season.

Until then, take care.
Gregory D. Bossart, VMD, PhD
Senior Vice President
Animal Health, Research and Conservation

St. Helena Whale Shark Tag

A lot of a whale shark’s daily life is still unknown. Things as basic as their reproductive habits to how they use the water column throughout the day are still a mystery to researchers. One tool used to help find answers to these questions are satellite tags. Georgia Aquarium has used satellite tags to study whale sharks in Mexico, the Galapagos islands and in St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Satellite tags have a pretty rough life, though. They are relentlessly exposed to tropical sunlight while immersed in a corrosive seawater environment. The tags are designed with these conditions in mind to take some abuse and still report their observations. However, current tags aren’t designed with deep dives – like the ones whale sharks around St. Helena make in mind. The island of St. Helena rises very quickly from the ocean depths and within a few nautical miles of shore, you’re easily in depths of 1000 meters. The tags Georgia Aquarium uses for whale shark research are rated to survive depths of up to 1800 meters without being damaged from this crushing pressure. Unfortunately, a lot of the tags deployed were damaged during these extreme dives. Fortunately, though, there were two tags that successfully reported their movements and a third true-life message in a bottle story.

On March 5, 2017, biologist Flora Zauli, a member of a beach patrol at Espiritu Santo, Brazil, found a device in the sand. She brought it to Dr. Larissa Pavanelli who identified the item as a satellite tracker and was able to decipher the label on the tag and contacted Harry Webb. After Harry was given the coordinates and time of day where the tag was found, he plotted the course using Google Earth and learned that the tag drifted over 2,200 miles in 421 days. It is presumed that the tag detached prematurely from the whale shark and washed ashore after its oceanic journey. Looking through records, it appears that this tag never reported any data and may have been defective. However, all is not lost. Once we receive the tag at Georgia Aquarium, it may have a treasure trove of valuable data stored on it that can be retrieved once it’s connected to a computer. The greater revelation is that this incident can be used to help understand more how the ocean current moves from St. Helena towards the east coast of Brazil. This information helps us when we look for locations where whale sharks might be found. They are known for following the prevailing currents and not working against them to conserve energy. With this tag, there is now a connection from St. Helena to the beach at Espiritu Santo, Brazil. Because whale sharks are known to migrate large distances and can be found all over the globe, it’s important to identify potential “hot spots” or areas of interest to focus our efforts. Were it not for the beach patrol finding and reporting this tag, this new area of interest might have never been established.

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Manatee Research and Conservation

Georgia Aquarium’s Research and Conservation team organizes many amazing R&C initiatives relating to the key species in our collection; whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, penguins, and corals. At times, our team has also been invited to join in research conducted by other institutions, including opportunities on the OCEARCH vessel, sand tiger shark research in Delaware, sting ray health assessments in the Cayman Islands, and manatee health assessments right here in Georgia. At other times, the Aquarium will sponsor an organization and the important work they do. A great example of such a sponsorship is the recent request assistance by the Rainforest Awareness, Rescue and Education Center (RAREC) in Iquitos, Peru.

The RAREC team works to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife along the Amazon River as well as perform community outreach to educate the local communities about the flora and fauna found there and the importance of its conservation. Recently, the RAREC team discovered a group of Amazonian manatees in the care of a private individual in less than ideal conditions. After convincing the holder to relinquish possession of the animals, they were moved to the Center for rehabilitation. Once there, the animals were given a full physical work up where it was discovered that the manatees were in fair health. It was at this time that RAREC reached out to Dr. Gregory Bossart, Senior Vice President of Animal Health, Research and Conservation for assistance. Dr. Bossart has worked with many manatee rehabilitation centers during his career in aquatic mammal health and rehabilitation. Georgia Aquarium was able to assist with a financial donation that will help continue the veterinary and nutritional care these manatees need during their rehabilitation, funds to help with community education of the areas surrounding the release site, and post-release observation of the individuals.

The RAREC team has been giving frequent updates and it appears the animals are progressing nicely and will be ready for their release somewhere in the near future. Please look for updates on this case as we will share them as they are received.

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Manta Research

Georgia Aquarium’s manta ray research at Marineland, FL was an important project for 6 years. With each year we added new components of research while dedicating our staff to the overall goal of understanding the natural history and population dynamics of these large, migratory rays. In 2018, our research and conservation team worked with our dive operations team to install acoustic listening stations along the sandy bottom of the Atlantic Ocean via SCUBA divers. These stations will be “listening” for individually coded acoustic transmitters affixed to the manta rays to monitor their movements. Five stations in total were deployed in the waters just off shore of Marineland, FL. This group of stations is called a receiver array and it will be used to record tagged manta rays that swim through the nearshore Atlantic Ocean at Marineland, FL. These stations have an underwater microphone called a hydrophone that picks up specially coded messages released by the transmitters attached to the rays.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen weather circumstances, the research crew this year could not affix any transmitters to manta rays. But all is not lost, because there are still many tagged species of sharks, fish, and some rays swimming in the nearshore waters at Marineland. Using these receivers, we’ll be able to monitor the movements of animals equipped with the coded transmitters. When we retrieve the stations in the next year, we’ll be able to report those observations to other scientists as active members of the Florida Atlantic Coast Telemetry (FACT) Network. This participation will allow us to share data with other researchers as well as receive data when our tags are detected by other partner receivers.

Ocean Voyager Webcam 3

Dr. Greg Bossart Delivers One Health Lecture

Dr. Greg Bossart was recently invited to participate in Penn State University’s premier science-focused annual lecture series for the general public, the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science.  The topic of the 2017 lecture series was “The Quest for One Healthy Planet”, for which Dr. Bossart gave his presentation on “Marine Mammals as Sentinels of Ocean and Human Health.” The seminar was well attended by both the general public and PSU students, who stayed for a private Q&A session once the presentation concluded. It was a great opportunity to discuss the One Health concept and to motivate students looking for career paths in animal or human science to consider the One Health model.

World Oceans Summit

The animals that Georgia Aquarium researches are found all over the globe, and so must the effort be to conserve their world, and ours. Ocean trash and single use plastics are a major threat to aquatic wildlife and the environment as a whole. Georgia Aquarium is becoming more involved in the conversation surrounding how we as humans can change this course, including attending symposiums, forums, and conferences worldwide. Dr. Al Dove, Vice President of Research and Conservation, recently traveled to Bali, Indonesia in late February to attend the World Oceans Summit. Organized by the Economist, the Summit brings together business leaders, government officials, investors, ocean advocates, and members of the scientific community for a constructive and solution-based dialogue regarding the future of the oceans and their inhabitants.

While in Bali, Dr. Dove also met with the team at Conservation International to talk about our collaboration later this summer, which includes conducting unprecedented full scale health assessments on free-swimming whale sharks. This expedition has been set for July 20 to August 13. Please be on the lookout for further communications regarding that trip.

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Dr. Lisa Hoopes Update

In addition to ensuring that the live collection at Georgia Aquarium receives the best diet available, Nutritionist Dr. Lisa Hoopes carries out multiple field research projects throughout the year. Two of her most recent ventures included her partnership with the OCEARCH crew in search of great white sharks and collaborating with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida studying spotted eagle ray nutrition.

In early March Dr. Hoopes, along with the crew on the OCEARCH research vessel embarked on an expedition out of Hilton Head, South Carolina in the hopes of finding Great White Sharks. Dr. Hoopes joined 10 researchers from public and private institutions including South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Mote Marine Laboratory, Georgia State University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute for the second half of a two-week voyage. Although the weather wasn’t ideal, the full two-week expedition yielded two great white sharks and two tiger sharks. Dr. Hoopes was on board for the second tiger shark. All four animals were given a full assessment before being safely released, the crew was even able to collect sperm from the one mature male white shark, and Dr. Hoopes will be testing collected samples for vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. This was Dr. Hoopes third time joining the OCEARCH crew and she is enthusiastic about her relationship with OCEARCH and looks forward to future opportunities. “It’s always a great time when you can collaborate with peers, while also working with some really amazing animals in such a remarkable setting.”

Around the Memorial Day holiday, Dr. Hoopes traveled to Sarasota, Florida to join researchers from Mote Maine Laboratory to perform health assessments on spotted eagle rays that inhabit Sarasota Bay and the surrounding Gulf of Mexico. Biological samples from the rays as well as samples from potential prey items are being analyzed in the hopes of understanding the nutritional requirements of this species.

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Dr. Anders Goksøyr

On March 8, 2017, Georgia Aquarium staff and volunteers were treated to a lecture by Dr. Anders Goksøyr, Head of the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen, Norway where he discussed one of his projects, “Polar bear ecotoxicology- establishing understanding through toxicogenomic and ex-situ approaches”. While on sabbatical from the University of Bergen, Dr. Goksøyr visited Georgia Aquarium because of our commitment to the concept of One Health; which believes that human, environmental, animal and plant health are all connected and each influences the other.  Dr. Goksøyr has been a proponent of One Health in Europe for many years. He has authored over 130 scientific publications and over 250 conference abstracts.

Recent Publications and Presentations

Bryan CE, Bossart GD, Christopher SJ, Davis WC, Kilpatrick LE, McFee WE, O’Brien TX. Selenium protein identification and profiling by mass spectrometry: A tool to assess progression of cardiomyopathy in a whale model. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. 44: 40-49. 2017.

Cocilova CC, Flewelling LJ, Bossart GD, Granholm AA, Milton, SL. Tissue uptake, distribution and excretion of brevetoxin-3 after oral and intratracheal exposure in the freshwater turtle Trachemys scripta and the diamond back terrapin Malaclemys terrapin. Aquatic Toxicology. 187: 29-37. 2017.

Cusak LM, Clauss TM, Field CL, Bossart GD, Camus AC. Pathology in Practice. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 250(7): 755-757. 2017

Fair PA, Schaefer AM, Houser DS, Bossart GD, Romano TA, Champagne CD, Stott JL, Rice CD, White N, Reif JS. The environment as a driver of immune and endocrine responses in dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). PLOS One. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176202. 2017.

Hyatt, MW, Field CL, Clauss TM, Arheart KL, Cray C. Plasma protein electrophoresis and select acute phase proteins in healthy bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo) under managed care. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. 47(4): 984-992. 2016

Nouri-Shirazi M, Bible BF, Zeng M, Tamjidi S, Bossart GD. Phenotyping and comparing the immune cell populations of free-ranging Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and dolphins in human care. BMC Veterinary Research. DOI 10.1186/s12917-017-0998-3. 2017.

Salbany AC, Roque L, PerezCao H, Ova Y, Bossart GD. Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) Calves Development Data. International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine Meeting and Conference. Cancun, Mexico. May, 2017.

Soloff AC, Jacobs Wolf B, White ND, Muir D, Courtney S, Hardiman G, Bossart GD, Fair PA. Environmental perfluorooctane sulfonate exposure drives T cell activation in bottlenose dolphins. Journal of Applied Toxicology. DOI 10.1002/jat.3465. 2017.

Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station

Earlier this year, Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station (GACFS) employees and volunteers participated in the rescue of a dolphin calf who was observed tangled in fishing gear. The calf and its mother were spotted near Cape Canaveral, Florida in early January. GACFS and partner institutions including Sea World Orlando, HUBBS Sea World Research Institute, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and University of Florida worked out a plan of action to free the calf of its entanglement under the supervision and authorization of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The mother and calf were both safely restrained as the crew worked to free the small dolphin from the heavy fishing gear that had begun to cut into the young animal’s skin, leaving it with pronounced wounds on its fluke. Once the entanglement was cleared away, antibiotics were administered, a full medical exam was performed, and a satellite tag was placed on the mother so keep track of the pair post release. Conservation Field Station staff assist with these types of rescues along Florida’s coast throughout the year as a member of the National Marine Fisheries Mammal Stranding Network.

Also, the team at the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station recently upgraded their marine mammal stranding equipment by designing and purchasing a new marine mammal ambulance. The brand new mobile unit will be a valuable asset to not only GACFS’ stranding response crew but for the larger National Marine Fisheries Mammal Stranding Network, of which the GACFS is a member.

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