GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The number of stranded sea turtles along the Mississippi Gulf Coast remains alarming. That's the word from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which responds to reports of dead or injured turtles.
In the five years before the BP oil spill, there were a total of 16 dead Kemp's Ridley sea turtles reported in Mississippi. In 2010, the year of the spill, that number exploded to 289 dead turtles washing ashore. This year, rarely does a day go by, when the IMMS doesn't receive at least one call about a turtle stranding.
"And she's still not really good," said veterinary tech, Wendy Hatchett, as she tried to stimulate some movement from an injured, juvenile Kemp's Ridley turtle.
This turtle got banged up by a dredge in Pascagoula.
"I don't know if she's got a head injury or not," said Hatchett.
Research assistant, Victoria Howard and her crew, responded Monday to yet another dead Kemp's Ridley found on the beach in Gulfport. The numbers may surprise you.
"They have stayed consistently high. This year we've had 292 live and 142 dead. So this is kind of alarming," said IMMS Director, Dr. Moby Solangi.
Many of the injured turtles are accidentally hooked by fishermen. Most of the time, the public has been good about reporting those incidents.
"We're getting a lot of incidental captures and we really appreciate those folks calling us, because they have very serious injuries resulting from the hooks," said Dr. Solangi.
"We have between a 95 to 98 percent success rate. If an animal comes here alive, the chances it will survive are very good," he added.
The IMMS has collected lots of important data as it releases and tracks the rehabilitated sea turtles. One big question has been: What is bringing the Kemp's Ridley turtles so much closer to shore?
"I believe that one of the possibilities is that their habitat, which is the oyster reefs, have been seriously affected. Their food source, which is blue crab, have also been affected, which hangs around the reefs. So these animals are coming closer. Looking for food," Dr. Solangi explains.
And it's not all Kemp's Ridley's. A large loggerhead turtle was found dazed and near death on the beach in Gulfport. It too will be nursed back to health.
"A lot of injured and sick turtles, which is unfortunate. But we also have a lot of healthy ones that we can get back to the gulf," said Hatchett, who says her work with the animals is most rewarding.