Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Canadian buffet

Canadian waters are an all-you-can-eat jellyfish buffet for leatherback turtles. Atlantic leatherbacks migrate to Canada to feed on jellies. One way you can see this is by looking at their tracks. Check out the mess of spaghetti up around Atlantic Canada. Those meandering tracks show turtles foraging for months in our jellyfish-dense waters, growing fatter and fatter. Riley, whom we talked about last post, is doing something similar off New England.

And then, like clockwork, in mid- to late October, they’re done. They leave Canadian waters, and the tracks lengthen out considerably, as you can see here. Now the animals are in “migration” mode—on their way south. They’ll still eat jellies when they can find them. But you won’t see them settle in and stay like they do in Canada again until they reach the waters off the nesting beaches.

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Losing sleep

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It is possible that you have not been kept up at night worrying about Riley the turtle. But we have. She has behaved differently from the other turtles we satellite tagged for the Great Canadian Turtle Race from the start. When they headed north to feed on jellyfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, she went south, dipping into U.S. waters. When we were sure she was going to keep snaking along the Eastern seaboard, she headed back up into Canada again.

There was something about New England that drew her, however, and we’ve spent the last few weeks nervously watching her swim deeper into Massachusetts Bay, slipping down into Cape Cod, where she has circled around and around in an area known for leatherback entanglements. We’ve been keeping in constant contact with our colleagues at the Provincetown Centre for Coastal Studies (PCCS) who work on disentangling leatherbacks in that area. It has been a record year for leatherback entanglements there, and they were really concerned about our turtle.

“Wow. This just gets worse,” wrote Scott Landry from PCCS after reviewing one of the daily maps Mike sent him showing Riley’s latest position.

But late last night, as we pulled up the maps to check on her one more time before bed, we discovered she had rounded Provincetown safely, heading out into the open Atlantic. We are celebrating today!

And we’re hoping that Miss Riley doesn’t take it upon herself to go back into the Bay. But you never know what these turtles will do.

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