I was in the Florida Panhandle, reporting on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill. This was a turtle-washing facility set up in a locked area at the back of Gulf World in Panama City Beach. Media hellhounds like me were being let in, on our best behavior, to behold an early-morning transfer of young turtles from the oiled-turtle-washing-and-stabilization center at Gulf World to a turtle-rehab center at SeaWorld Orlando, on the other side of Florida. (The turtles aren't on display to the public in either place.)
There were reasons for the eerie details. The identically-clad people were Gulf World and Sea World employees in uniform (royal blue shirts, black or khaki shorts, rubber boots). They walked in lines because there was a narrow zone between the “dirty”/oily side of the facility and the clean side. The silence was to avoid getting the turtles used to human voices. No one wanted them to grow up into “pier rats.” The turtles were carried in the approved way for turtles this size, faced away from the human, held behind the front flippers. Some turtles sculled with their flippers as they were carried. The wand checked a microchip implanted in each turtle.
The grave atmosphere came from respect for the rare animals – endangered Kemp's ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii). It came from determination to help mitigate the oil's damage (and awareness that many more turtles had died). It came from the knowledge that everything was being recorded. (A few times I overheard an acolyte whisper the name of a departing turtle: Mikey! Buzz! It's Lance!)
Media attention was the least of it. Scientific data that might be gained was also subsidiary. (There weren't nearly enough turtles to make a study.) It was explained that the turtles were evidence. The microchips, records, re-checking of records before packing each turtle in a labeled container – all maintained the chain of custody.
CSI: Gulf of Mexico.