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National Aquarium Prepares For Creatures Affected By Gulf Oil Leak

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A large Green Sea Turtle swims with its trainer and snacks on some lettuce.
A large Green Sea Turtle swims with its trainer and snacks on some lettuce.

By Sabri Ben-Achour

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is preparing to take in animals that have been sickened or injured from the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

Deep inside the Baltimore aquarium, inside a quarantined room far away from any tourists, there are a series of 6-foot-tall tanks. Inside are small, dinner plate size black and white sea turtles. One comes to the surface to investigate and flaps it's fins along the side of the tank.

"It's a Kemp's Ridley Sea turtle," says Brent Whittaker, head of biological operations at the aquarium.

"It's one of the most endangered animals you're going to see," he says.

These turtles came from New England. After six months of care they're being released to make room for what could be a deluge of turtles and other marine life from the Gulf coast.

"As animals come ashore, and hospital beds, or pools, become filled, they're going to need spaces for animals like this Kemp's Ridley," he says.

The aquarium is part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and they usually get sick or stranded creatures from along the Northeast seaboard. They're flown, driven, even Fedex-ed. The Aquarium has hundreds of volunteers.

"They're trained to give medications, take fluids, to put a stomach tube in and give nutrition, we also have a veterinary team that does all of the veterinary medicine associated with these animals, specifically reptile medicine and sea turtles," says Whittaker.

There are several smaller, urgent-care tanks that can hold up to ten critical animals, and a large 100,000 gallon pool that can hold several dozen animals that are further along the road to recovery.

Whittaker says he doesn't know how acute the need will be. Many animals are washing ashore along the Gulf, he says, but the vast majority are dead.

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