Birds, Sea Turtles, and Marine Mammals Stranded Along a Section of the South Texas Coast: A 20-Year Data Set
A 12-km section of Mustang Island Gulf beach has been surveyed since 1978 on a bi-daily frequency to monitor seasonal and long-term changes in the bird population in response to increasing human usage and beach management practices. Other animals found on the beach during the survey resulted in the author becoming involved in the monitoring programs STSSN (Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network) and TMMSN (Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network). This ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) that specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of aquatic birds, turtles, and occasionally dolphins.
Since 1979, 3972 birds of 162 species have been found dead on the survey beach, approximately 0.1% of the nearly 4 million birds counted to date. Laughing gull is the dominant species. Location, condition, age, and sex (where possible) of each bird is noted. The carcasses are removed from the beach before the next survey. Over 4000 injured birds of 49 species have been observed during the surveys. Except for birds captured for rehabilitation at the ARK, most cannot or need not be captured. Laughing gull and ring-billed gulls dominate this list although individuals may be seen many times (a one-footed ring-billed gull was observed yearly for over twenty years.) Additionally some 4000 oiled birds have been observed on the beach, most as a result of the disastrous IXTOC I oil spill in 1979-1980. The ARK takes in several hundred birds each year drawn from a wider area (usually within 50-miles of Port Aransas).
Also drawn from this wider local area since 1983 have been 1858 stranded sea turtles of five species. 610 of these have been alive and treated at the ARK, with 340 being released back to the wild. Nearly 700 marine mammals of 17 species have stranded in the local area in the past twenty years. Dominated by the bottlenose dolphin, the great majority has been found dead but a handful of the live animals have been successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
The mortality, injuries and diseases (where known) of these aquatic animals are discussed from the point of view of identifying those that result from human activities in the coastal zone. This work also emphasizes the need for more expert advice from the veterinary profession and for funding to permit professional necropsies to be done on birds and turtles that die of unknown causes in rehabilitation centers like the ARK.