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Six Rehabilitated Sea Turtles Successfully Released By Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center

June 30th, 2020

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The Gulfarium's C.A.R.E. Center successfully released six rehabilitated sea turtles early Tuesday morning, June 30th, 2020 at Grayton Beach State Park off of East County Highway 30A.
All six of the rehabilitated sea turtles fell victim to ingested marine debris in the Gulf or fishing equipment related injuries. Their time of stay in rehabilitation at the C.A.R.E. Center varied. 
The first turtle to be released was Damsel, a sub-adult green sea turtle, who was foul-hooked in the front left flipper by fishermen at Navarre Beach Fishing Pier on June 29th, 2020. The hook was removed and radiographs showed that no foreign debris had been ingest so Damsel was quickly ready for release back into the Gulf.
Tyrell and Flick, two juvenile green sea turtles, were next to be released. Both turtles were found near Navarre Beach Fishing Pier in mid-June. Tyrell was foul-hooked by fishermen with a double barbed j-hook in the right front flipper. Flick had fishing line wrapped around both front shoulders and had become entangled to the pier piling. There was also a large hook embedded into his right front flipper. The juvenile Green sea turtles received clean bills of health, and were quickly ready for release after the removal of the hooks and fishing line.
Claudia, the fourth sea turtle to be released by the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center team, was discovered near Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier on June 5th, 2020. This 112lb sub-adult loggerhead was found with roughly 3lbs of fishing gear (including a fishing rod, full sabiki rig, multiple types of lines and weights) trailing from her. With the help of Okaloosa Pier Staff, she was rescued and brought to the C.A.R.E. Center. This was Claudia's second visit to the center. She was previously found slightly east of the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier on September 13th, 2019 with fishing line severely entangling her front right shoulder, as well as a fishing lure caught in her front right flipper. "Incidental capture in fishing line is one of the greatest threats to sea turtles," states Terra Throgmorton, Gulfarium's Medical & Stranding Coordinator. "If such an event occurs, please do not cut the line and let the turtle swim away. Call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) for immediate direction on what to do. Also, make sure to dispose of all fishing gear correctly as discarded fishing debris has the potential to become severely entangled, which could result in limb amputations, drowning, or even death."

Shimano was the next turtle to head back into the Gulf of Mexico. This 40lb Kemp's ridley sea turtle was hooked by fishermen at Navarre Beach Fishing Pier on June 11th, 2020. Radiographs showed that no debris had been ingested and, following the removal of the hook from Shimano's mouth, he was ready for release.

The final sea turtle to be released was Mahogany, a 100lb sub-adult loggerhead. Mahogany was caught by fishermen at Navarre Beach Fishing Pier on May 23rd, 2020. In addition to fishing line protruding from her mouth, there was line entangled around her front left shoulder and flipper. Radiographs revealed a large gauge hook located in her esophagus, as well as two fishing hooks in her intestines. Surgery was required to remove the large gauge hook from her esophagus but she was able to pass the two intestinal hooks on her own. The C.A.R.E. team closely monitored her suture site to ensure healing and provided nutritional support to aid weight gain before she was deemed ready for release. "We are very thankful for the responsible fishermen and pier staff for taking the correct steps to rescue this turtle," explains Will Merrill, President of the Gulfarium. "All species of sea turtle are endangered so we are passionate about doing everything we can to help these animals. We couldn't be happier that these turtles were able to be released back into the Gulf. I am proud of our team and their commitment to give sea turtles second chances"
Follow the C.A.R.E. Center on Facebook to learn more about sea turtles and the center's rehabilitation efforts.  

The Gulfarium CARE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is proud to act as a beacon for coastal conservation through marine animal rescue and rehabilitation. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made online on the C.A.R.E. Center's page.

Two African Penguin Chicks Hatch at Gulfarium

March 1st, 2020

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Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park has been busy this year hatching and caring for baby penguins. Since December 20th, 2019, three African penguins have hatched, while another egg is being monitored. Timmy was the first of the three hatched in December, but two new penguins were born on February 15th and 18th.

Becky, a visitor favorite at the Gulfarium, hatched at the park in 2016 and laid her first ever clutch of eggs with mate Mooshu at the start of this year. As these are Becky's first chicks, one chick will be looked after by Ninja and Jelly, Becky's parents while Becky concentrates fully on raising her first ever chick. The chicks will be raised by the adult penguins for the first 3 weeks of their lives but will be moved off exhibit once they become more mobile until they have grown their waterproof feathers and learned how to swim.

At just three months old, Timmy, Becky's brother who hatched back in December 2019, has reached his full height and weight. Now that Timmy has his waterproof coat, he will begin swimming classes. Bryan Martin, Gulfarium's Director of Animal Management, states how important it is to monitor the pace for the penguins chicks, so the Gulfarium will adjust care based on Timmy’s needs.

The African penguin is an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. African penguins, known for their “tuxedo look,” live off the coast of Africa, where oil spills can be very problematic for the birds.

Martin said many people assume penguins ingest the oil, but the real issue is that the oil removes their waterproof coating, removing their ability to swim and find food. “Their biggest threat is pollution and also overfishing,” Martin said. The Gulfarium is one of several facilities all over the country working to increase the number of penguins through breeding programs and genetic diversity. “We have to give them a chance to come back,” he said.

Endangered African Penguin Chick Born at Gulfarium

January 20th, 2020

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Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park celebrated Penguin Awareness Day in the best way possible, by announcing a new addition to their endangered African penguin family. The Gulfarium, located on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, revealed that a penguin chick hatched at the park on December 20th, 2019.
The penguin chick was raised by surrogate penguin parents, Missy and Tubbs, for the first three weeks of his life. "Once an egg is laid, we remove it from the nest and replace it with a fake egg for the adult penguins to sit on. This is so that we can closely monitor the development of the fetus. We give fake eggs to multiple of our mated pairs to encourage them to learn how to care for an egg. Once the chick hatches, we place it in the nest with the surrogate parents and remove their fake egg. In the wild, it is not uncommon for eggs to not develop, so the penguins who do not receive the chick, simply remove the fake egg from their nest when it does not hatch," explains Bryan Martin, Director of Animal Management. "As Ninja and Jelly have successfully raised a chick in the past, we gave Missy and Tubbs the opportunity to learn, under staff supervision. Our animal care specialists would monitor the growth of the chick with frequent weight checks. Now we have further pairs of adult penguins that know how to successfully raise a chick in case we ever have 2 eggs hatch around the same time. " 
"African penguins are an endangered species," says Mary Kate Northup, Gulfarium's Operations Manager. "They are at serious risk of extinction, so any effort we can do to help preserve the species is vital. Penguin Awareness Day is the perfect way to educate the public on how we can help to protect this wonderful species." The wild African penguin population has decreased at the alarming rate of over sixty percent in the last 30 years. 
This penguin chick will be the third chick in the Gulfarium's penguin colony that was born to parents, Ninja and Jelly. Ninja and Jelly's first chick, Becky, hatched in December 2016 and quickly became a well-known member of the Gulfarium's animal family. Becky's brother, Toto, hatched on September 12th, 2018 and recently completed his first molt, where his  juvenile feathers were shed and replaced with his tuxedo-style, black and white adult feathers. 
"Our team is doing everything we can to not only protect this species from extinction, but also teach our guests about what they can do to help. Through the experiences and education that we provide here at the Gulfarium, we hope to inspire our guests to respect and love wildlife as much as we do." says Patrick Berry, Gulfarium's Senior Vice President. 
The Gulfarium anticipates that the chick will begin to grow his waterproof feathers in just a little over a month and shortly thereafter, be ready to learn how to swim so that he can be out on exhibit with the rest of the penguin colony. 
The public is invited to follow the chick's progress on Gulfarium's Facebook page.  All updates, including milestones will be made available via Facebook.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park Introduces New Harbor Seal

November 7th, 2019

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Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is very pleased to announce the addition of a new Harbor seal to the park's resident animal family.
The female seal, named Zoey, arrived at the park in mid-October after transport from another zoological facility. Zoey was originally rescued off the coast of Massachusetts on November 22nd, 2009, and deemed non-releasable due to reoccurring infections. She has most recently been cared for at the Aquarium of Niagara. 
"We are very happy about this new addition," states Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park's President, Will Merrill III. "Zoey is the mother of Zara, a Harbor seal already living here at the Gulfarium, so we are excited to reunite and have them both with us."
Zoey, who currently weighs 130lbs, gave birth to Zara on July 13th, 2017. "Zoey has acclimated to her new surroundings very well," explains Bryan Martin, Director of Animal Management. "She arrived to us in great health and joined our group of 4 Harbor seals very quickly. Now that she has settled into her new habitat with our other seals, we are beginning a training program which includes husbandry and medical behaviors such as mouth examinations, and blood sampling in accordance with Gulfarium's animal care."
Visitors can view Zoey, along with 2-year old Zara, Milo, August and Ollie, in the Gulfarium's Seal Harbor habitat.

Baby Sea Lion Makes A Splash at Gulfarium

July 16th, 2019

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A California sea lion pup has been born at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park! The little pup was welcomed into the world June 17th, marking the first sea lion birth at the Gulfarium in over 10 years. This is also the first pup for 6-year old Tabby, making the event even more special.

Colleen Cassidy, Tabby’s trainer, said she was overjoyed about her “favorite” sea lion giving birth.

“I’m a grandma,” Cassidy said jokingly. “We found out that Tabby was pregnant in January. She was behaving oddly so we tested her blood and confirmed the pregnancy with an ultrasound.”

“Due to the way their bodies are, it’s sometimes hard to tell if sea lions are pregnant,” states Bryan Martin, Gulfarium’s Director of Animal Management. “Luckily, because we spend so much time with our animals, we learn to notice the little signs and behavioral changes.”

Towards the end of her pregnancy, Tabby was monitored by Gulfarium staff 24 hours a day.

“It’s amazing to have such dedicated staff,” Martin said. “I’m just so proud of our team and all the work that they do.”

For now, Tabby and the pup are spending close time together in an exhibit that was specially built for the pair. The pup is still learning how to swim, so she currently only has access to smaller pool. However, when the time is right, both Tabby and her pup will be with the other sea lions in the larger habitats.

Gulfarium's Endangered Penguin Chick Undergoes Surgery

May 27th, 2019

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Within the first two months of hatching, one of the Gulfarium's new African penguin chicks began holding its ankles abnormally.

Following a series of medical examinations by the Gulfarium animal care and veterinary team, it was discovered that the tendons in the chick's legs were too loose, allowing the joint to slip out of place. Even though the issue was initially found in the right leg, it was soon determined that the left leg was also affected, but to a lesser degree.  With the leg joints slipping out of place, the penguin chick was unable to walk. Possible causes for the issue, as seen in other bird species, include a congenital defect, an abnormal growth rate or other undetermined causes.

Due to her inability to walk, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park reached out to specialists in the Zoological Medicine Department at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. A veterinary orthopedic surgeon there, Vanessa Ferraz, had experience with similar cases in other birds and penguins. It was decided that external fixators would be placed on the chick's legs which would allow the ankles to be held in position so that the tendon would not slip out of place. This solution would enable the penguin to walk, and have some range of motion as the legs continue to grow. Exercise would help develop the muscles of the legs, thus tightening the tendons.

A team of zoo veterinarians, residents, interns and vet students worked tirelessly to assist in the chick's surgeries and recovery.  During the healing process, the Integrative Medicine department, prescribed exercises to strengthen the muscles in the chick's legs and improve its ability to walk.

"We knew that surgery was necessary in order to give the chick a chance at a future and the ability to walk," states Dr. Rebecca Wells, Gulfarium's veterinarian. "The chick continues to thrive and is improving every day. We are very thankful to the team at University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for their help on this case. We are cautiously optimistic that the chick will continue to thrive and enjoy the life of a normal penguin. We will continue to learn from this case in order to help this endangered species." 

The chick is currently undergoing rehabilitation at the Gulfarium while the animal care staff monitor its progress daily.
Updates on the chick's progress will be made available on Gulfarium's Facebook and Instagram pages.

Exceptionally Egg-citing Times for Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

April 9th, 2019

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Some very egg-citing things have been happening behind the scenes at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. The park, located on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, has announced the hatching of not one, but two African penguin chicks!

The first chick hatched on January 25th, 2019, with the second following close behind, just three days later. They have been hand-raised behind the scenes by the Gulfarium's well-trained animal care staff and are currently shedding their fluffy down, to be replaced by juvenile waterproof feathers.
"African penguins are an endangered species. They are facing imminent extinction without human intervention," explains Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park's President, Will Merrill III. "African penguins only lay two eggs per clutch, so we are extremely happy to have two healthy chicks."
The Gulfarium anticipates that the chicks will begin to integrate with the rest of their penguin colony in just a little over a month and shortly thereafter, be ready to make their debut to the public.
Four African Penguin chicks have now hatched at the Gulfarium since 2016. "We are extremely proud of our animal care team," states Patrick Berry, Gulfarium's Director. "They work around the clock for our chicks to ensure healthy development. When they first hatch, our penguin chicks are fed every 3 hours. It's a lot of work but any effort we can do to help preserve the species is vital. These chicks are the result of a successful breeding loan with our friends at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City."

New Dune Walk at Gulfarium

March 19th, 2019

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Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park has opened their new Dune Walk.
The new 551ft feature wraps around the west side of the property and provides breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico while giving guests the opportunity to learn about the importance of dunes in the coastal ecosystem. 
The Dune Walk offers an exciting new perspective of multiple exhibits at the Gulfarium, including Dune Lagoon, Fort Gator and The Bayou. Not only can guests now view some of their favorite exhibits from a new angle, there is also a new box turtle exhibit to enjoy.  
"We are very excited to open our new Dune Walk and highlight the importance of coastal dune lakes," says Patrick Berry, Gulfarium's Director. "These lakes are unique geographical features, found only in a handful of areas, including right here in Northwest Florida! Many endangered species, including sea turtles and beach mice, use dune lakes for nesting and shelter, making them an essential part of the environment."
The north and south entrances of the Dune Walk are wheelchair accessible so that the new area can be enjoyed by all visitors.
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