A still from drone footage shows DRC staff preparing to bring an injured vulture onboard for transport. DOLPHIN RESEARCH CENTER/Contributed

On Jan. 23, Dolphin Research Center staff assisted in the rescue of about 60 waterlogged turkey vultures off the coast of Marathon. While conducting field research in a boat on the gulf side of Marathon, DRC staff came upon a turkey vulture struggling in the water. Turkey vultures do not swim, so staff took her on board and contacted the Marathon Wild Bird Center to evaluate the bird. 

Dana Child, a volunteer at the center, advised that when one vulture is found in the water, there are typically many more. Every few years, mass numbers of vultures have been found stranded in water. The reason isn’t clear, but the birds sometimes suffer blunt force trauma from hitting the water or are simply cold and waterlogged without the ability to lift themselves out of the water. These events may be caused by a strong downdraft of air pushing them into the water. 

Knowing there may be a large number of birds in need of rescue, Dolphin Research Center staff along with Child and Kirk Linaje, founder of the Marine Order for Research and Action through Environmental Stewardship (MORAES), returned to the location to search for more birds. The DRC boat spent the next four hours searching for and rescuing these birds. Eventually, 27 waterlogged turkey vultures were brought on board. 

DRC staff were also joined by an FWC patrol boat, and there were reports of local fishermen and boaters who rescued a number of birds. 

In total, about 60 birds were brought to the Marathon Wild Bird Center. Over the following two days, the bird center successfully rehabilitated and released all of the surviving vultures from the event.

As carrion eaters, vultures are a critical part of the ecosystem. They remove pathogens and toxins from the environment, helping keep the ecosystem disease free. Their digestive systems contain a very strong acid that destroys many of the harmful substances found in dead animals.

DRC staff members bring a struggling turkey vulture on board for transport to the Marathon Wild Bird Center. DOLPHIN RESEARCH CENTER/Contributed