Investigation into the deaths of turtles at Misery Bay ongoing

Laurentian University herpetologist Jacqueline Litzguz with a healthy Blanding’s turtle in Sudbury.

MISERY BAY—The murder mystery at Misery Bay on why so many turtles have perished continues with the news that 12 more turtles have been found dead.

“Basically, what we can report at this time is that this is all still a mystery as to why so many turtles have died in Misery Bay park,” said Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus

Dr. Jacqueline Litzgus, a professor  and a herpetologist (a researcher who studies amphibians and reptiles) in the Department of Biology at Laurentian University, told the Recorder last Saturday, “in May 2012, Ontario Parks ecologists Anna Sheppard and Ed Morris, came here to investigate Blanding’s turtles habitat and food sources, because there are so many here in Misery Bay.”

“When they came back in April 2013 to do a study (they had put radio transmitters on many of the turtles) and when they got here they found some live turtles and some dead ones,” said Dr. Litzgus. “They came back about once a week to monitor them and Anna then found some more dead turtles and by the time they had come back in November 2013, there were 59 dead turtles, 49 Blandings turtles and 10 painted turtles.”

“Because of what they found it was felt that a study needed to be carried out to find out what was causing this mortality rate,” said Dr. Litzgus. “The Friends of Misery Bay, in partnership with Laurentian University, applied for and received a grant of $80,000 from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) Species at Risk Stewardship Fund. Funding was provided for a fourth year student and an assistant to basically go through a forensic sciences study, like CSI, through Laurentian University to try and figure out what is going on.”

Preliminary tests had previously been conducted on disease and predators, but those studies proved inconclusive, said Dr. Litzgus.

With funding in place Donnell Gasbarrini, who has a two-year Masters in Science along with her field assistant Amber Kolodzik, have been at Misery Bay Provincial Park for the past two months.

“It’s a bummer, but they have found 12 more dead turtles, in addition to the 59 last fall,” said Dr. Litzgus. She explained that along with the students, a Ministry of Natural Resources wildlife detector dog is also stationed at Misery Bay Park, and Rebel, a yellow Lab, found one of the dead turtle carcasses.

Dr. Litzgus said there are 18 turtles in Misery Bay now attached with radio transmitters, 10 males and eight females, and Ms. Gasbarrini monitors these turtles extensively, almost every day she is in the park.

The two students, “have been here since May 1,” said Dr. Litzgus “Donnell has reported on individual turtle movement, and in one case a female had travelled one kilometre in six hours. She is trying to monitor and follow the turtles to find a related cause for their deaths, what habitats they are using and where they are going, to determine any clues that way as to their deaths. They will be looking at the hibernation patterns of the turtles, and taking blood tests of turtles to see if there is a rare disease that is causing the problems.”

As well, “they are using a number of other initiatives, like  setting down a foam turtle with a trail camera on it,”said Dr. Litzgus. “It looks like a Blanding’s  turtle and will to any potential predator, and hopefully we will be able to determine if it is predators that are taking these turtles, using the trail camera.  The camera will provide images of who the foam turtle interacted with, and whether it was predators.”

“This is the first year of the two year project,” noted Dr. Litzgus. “Phase one included the preliminary investigation and now the investigation will become more focussed, using better resources.”