Nicole and the map

Here is where our turtles are:

2015_12_10_Map

I have found it difficult to post these maps of late. The process itself is the same, of course. But I used to send the links to my friend Nicole. She was one of those people who was a marine biologist not by training, but by nature. Her deep connection to the ocean was knit into her soul.

There are many things to know about Nicole, but one is that she had a marvelous laugh—the kind you could pick out because it was uncommonly lovely. Her laugh was like a sentence—a bit of happiness standing on its own in the conversation.

Nicole often laughed when we told her about what the sea turtles were up to—not because she thought what we said was funny necessarily, but because she was truly delighted by the turtles. She innately understood the wonder of them. She was always interested in the scientific details of our research, listening and nodding and asking questions that made us think.

Our friend Nicole died of leukemia just over two weeks ago. She was only 36, with a beloved husband and two little boys at home—and a raft of family and friends now navigating the complex currents of grief.

I have thought about many things since Nicole died. One thing is how our Canadian Sea Turtle Network is made up of so many people. The people on our office team. Our volunteers. The fishermen who work in the field with us. The sea turtle researchers around the world helping us. The many people who kindly fund us. And people like Nicole, whose hearts hold space for this work that we do. Who laugh, awed and delighted by the ocean and the turtles. Who help to make us stronger and more creative. Who listen and watch and read.

People like you.

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Nicole

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Sad news

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I am sad to report that Eric, the lovely little Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, has died.

He couldn’t overcome the combination of emaciation, pneumonia, and the effects of hypothermia.

He had so many things stacked against him.

We did everything we could to help. Eric was cared for with great skill and extraordinary affection by Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark and his team.

We will now send Eric to Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island. Pierre-Yves will conduct a necropsy (which is like an autopsy) and that way we will learn if there were any additional complications Eric was dealing with. I’ll let you know what we hear.

I am trying to look on the bright side.

I am reminding myself that we learn something new with every sea turtle—both alive and dead—and that this is extremely important, particularly with endangered species.

I am reminding myself about how proud I am of the crew at Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound and the many other people like them in this province who take the time to keep our beaches clear of debris. Who take, simply, the time to walk them. To know the coastline. To be aware of the living place it is.

And then there are the things that I am grateful for that are harder to explain.

During much of the short time I spent with Eric, his eyes were closed. But when I watched him swim, they were wide open. And at one point, while Chris held him out of the water, I had a chance to look into them.

There is a wisdom in those eyes that is different from our own. That knows the world in a way we don’t. What a privilege to have been in its presence.

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Eric update

Eric swam for a bit today. We’re not letting him spend too much time in the water at this point so that he conserves what little energy he has. In very good news, Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, the vet taking care of Eric, said that our turtle is no longer hypothermic. His temperature is in the normal range again.

Eric is still fighting pneumonia, and likely will be for a while. But Chris says the biggest challenge now is how emaciated Eric is. He isn’t showing an interest in eating yet, which is a worry. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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Meet Eric

2015_11_10_Eric

This turtle is alive!

For the second time that we know of in the seventeen years we’ve been working with sea turtles, someone found a stranded hard-shelled sea turtle along a Nova Scotia shore before it died. Now we’re trying our best to help it survive.

On Sunday, as they do every day, the employees of the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound scanned the coastline near them to make sure it was clear of debris. They collect any garbage or broken crates they see to prevent them from washing back into the ocean.

“I saw a blue box out on the rocks, and asked Les Roy to go and get it,” explained Hope Shanks, who has worked at the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound for nineteen years. “He came back with this turtle.”

Hope called our good friend Dr. Sherman Bleakney, who lives in Wolfville. Sherman was the first scientist to propose that leatherbacks might be regular visitors to Canadian waters back in 1965. He called our toll-free turtle line, his voice packed with characteristic enthusiasm.

“How are you?” I asked him.

“I’m great as you’d expect on a day where there’s a live sea turtle in Hall’s Harbour,” was his reply.

The turtle is a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It is, as you know, the second Kemp’s we’ve found recently. It’s the first one we’ve ever found alive. It’s also only the thirteenth Kemp’s ridley turtle on record in the history of Atlantic Canada. And, while we’re discussing statistics, it’s worth noting that it’s the fourth hard-shelled sea turtle we’ve worked with in the last ten days and the second found in Hall’s Harbour.

“These turtles may be more common in Canadian waters than we thought,” says Canadian sea turtle biologist Dr. Mike James. Mike captured and released a Kemp’s of this size while he was doing research offshore this summer.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered sea turtles in the world. This turtle is a juvenile, which means that it is too young for us to be able to determine its sex by looking at it. But the crew at the Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound named the turtle “Eric,” so we’re sticking with that. Eric is cold stunned. This means he found himself suddenly in water that was too cold for him to manage.

At the moment, Eric is safely tucked into a blue tote under the care of Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark, a veterinarian who is one of the founding members of the CSTN.

“This turtle is severely hypothermic and emaciated,” Chris said. He pointed to the muscles in Eric’s neck, which were clearly visible under the skin, as opposed to buried in a healthy layer of fat. “These are both difficult conditions to deal with.”

Chris had a warning tone in his voice. The it’s-a-long-road-from-here tone. The just-be-prepared tone. The watch-your-heart tone.

Because of course, although Eric is critically ill, he’s already beloved by all of us.

And maybe by you, too.

Chris Harvey-Clark kindly shared this video of Eric’s initial vet visit:

https://vimeo.com/145212030

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Turtle tracks are back!

Here is where our turtles are today:

2015_11_06_Map

In great news, the Canadian Wildlife Federation will be highlighting the tracks of four of our leatherbacks in an initiative called The Great Canadian Turtle Race, which they launched this week. It’s terrific coverage for sea turtles from an organization that is passionate about conserving wildlife in Canada. We’re really excited about it!

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Little sea turtles

Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

These two sweeties were in our office this morning: a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle. They were both found dead along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy. They are small—juvenile turtles—and they are something to see in person. I am struck by how delicate a turtle, despite its shell, can seem. How vulnerable.

There are only a dozen Kemp’s ridley sightings on record in Nova Scotia. Kemp’s are considered the most endangered of the world’s sea turtles. And although we know we have loggerheads in Atlantic Canadian waters, it is rare for us to come across one this young.

These little turtles are, of course, much, much smaller than a leatherback. Scientists measure sea turtles using their shell length, which we refer to as the Curved Carapace Length or “CCL.” The smallest leatherback turtle we have ever worked with had a CCL of just under 120 cm. This Kemp’s had a CCL of 27 cm and the loggerhead had a CCL of 24.5 cm.

We won’t know for certain why these turtles died until our friend Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island conducts the necropsy (which is like an autopsy) on them next week. But it is a safe bet that they died of hypothermia.

Leatherbacks are able to withstand colder water temperatures than hard-shelled turtles (like Kemp’s and loggerheads) can. When hard-shelled turtles suddenly find themselves in cold water, they become “cold stunned.” If they are found soon enough they can survive. In November and December, sea turtles routinely cold stun along the coast of New England. Last year, there were an unprecedented number.

The Kemp’s was found by Betty Kenneally. Betty walks the beach near her home four times a week. She isn’t patrolling for sea turtles specifically, but this happens to be the second Kemp’s ridley turtle she’s found and reported to us.

The loggerhead was found by Carrie Dickie, who was walking the beach near her home. Her husband, Gerald Dickie, a biologist himself, carefully recorded all of the details of the animal for us.

Gerald Dickie's careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Gerald Dickie’s careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

We are so grateful that they thought to call us. If you live in Nova Scotia and are interested in helping us patrol the beaches for these animals over the next six weeks, please email us at: info@seaturtle.ca.

I’ve seen many dead sea turtles over the years. And each time I wish I could whisper a bit of life into them in the way one might be allowed in a Disney film. Something to make the heads lift up and the flippers move. Something that would allow us to send them safely back into the ocean.

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Back at the office

We’re gradually settling back into office life, packing away equipment and painstakingly transferring information from our field sheets to our database. Our sea turtle field season is over, although there are still leatherbacks and loggerheads swimming in Canadian waters. The leatherbacks will start heading south over the next month, instinct sending them towards the nesting beaches of Florida, the Caribbean and South America. (Unless, of course, they are Beverly last year, who decided staying north and travelling east made more sense. Remember this and this and this?!)

Here is a look at where our satellite-tagged leatherbacks are these days:

2015_09_22

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Riley and Lily Rose…and an update on our current turtle gang

Riley and Lily Rose have both been seen nesting in French Guiana! We’ve just heard from our friend Antoine Baglan, who manages the database for Association KWATA in Cayenne, French Guiana. (Antoine is also, incidentally, an amazing nature photographer.)

You know, of course, the story of Lily Rose, and why she is so special to us.

But do you remember Riley? Riley used to keep us up at night. She was one of the first Canadian leatherbacks that we tracked right into Cape Cod Bay, where she navigated the maze of fishing gear for many days. I remember Scott Landry, the director of Marine Animal Entanglement Response at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts, reviewing one of the daily Riley updates we sent and saying, “Wow. This just gets worse.”

But she thankfully got out and continued to swim down the coast of the United States. Riley was kind of like Beverly. We had tagged her as part of the Great Canadian Turtle Race, and she behaved differently from the rest of the turtles we were following that year. You can see her track below in red.

20 November 2012

And then after almost seven months of tracking, Riley’s tag stopped.

So we are thrilled to hear about her and to know that she is safe and nesting—and we are also excited to learn where she is from, which we didn’t know when we tagged her!

Below is an updated map on the turtles we’re following now. Beverly continues to entertain us with her track, looping around and down again now.

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Look how far Sharon has gone! I love seeing her zip past all of those islands. You can see this in more detail in this map:

2015_06_26_Sharon

But it’s Christie we’re watching most closely now. She’s still in the nesting zone.

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Her current location is off Toco point, which is a busy fishing area and the place where we lost contact with Peggy. Let’s hope she pulls a Riley and makes it through safely.

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Painting day

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I love days like today. Today we are painting the Sea Turtle Centre. It was lemony yellow when we moved in. When we are finished, it will be leatherback blue.

It is sunny and windy outside and the Halifax waterfront is full of people—tourists with cameras holding the hands of little kids sticky with ice cream. And locals, who are stretching their arms and legs out in the warm sun watching the clouds skitter by, knowing that this type of day is exactly why we put up with long, icy winters here.

And at our Centre, there are lots of people painting, including volunteers like Lindsay (pictured above) and Laurel who have given up this first taste of summer after so much cold rain to join us. We even had a fisherman named Jake from Cape Breton who stopped by. He had his fishing pole with him, but since the mackerel weren’t biting down in the harbour yet, he picked up a paintbrush to help for a while.

It’s the miracle of people working together to help sea turtles—what an honour and a joy to witness it!

Emily and Kayla

Emily and Kayla

Emily (front) and Laurel

Emily (front) and Laurel

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Sargassum and turtle tracks

There have been a lot of developments at Matura Beach of late. We’ve been keeping a close eye on Christie and Sharon, our nesting turtles. As we found out when we tracked Peggy two years ago, there is no guarantee a leatherback will make it through the entire cycle of nesting safely.

And this year, there has been an added challenge. Sargassum in unprecedented amounts has landed at Matura, making it next to impossible for leatherbacks to nest there or for any hatchlings to make it to the sea. This is a video of our friend Kyle from the Nature Seekers. You will see him walk directly over the beach and almost 60 metres (200 feet) onto what is normally the ocean, but what is now a dense mat of sargassum.

The next video shows how deep and strong the sargassum bed is as it withstands the slapping waves.

So it has not been entirely surprising that neither Christie nor Sharon have been seen at Matura. In good news, according to our satellite data, it seems that Christie nested last night. She landed a little south of Matura Beach at Fishing Pond.

2015_06_19_Christie

Sharon, on the other hand, has finished nesting. She is heading north! We are amazed at how quickly she is going. This is the first time we will have ever watched a known “Canadian” turtle on this part of their journey. We can’t wait to find out what comes next.

2015_06_19_Sharon

Here is the larger map, where you can also see Beverly’s track. She’s going west—which may mean back toward us, ultimately. However, in what we might call typical Beverly style, she isn’t heading in a predictable way. You’ll note she’s swimming north at the moment. Sometimes I feel like Beverly’s our teenager-of-a-turtle. She’s endearing that way.

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