Monthly Archives: September 2014

Asha on our minds

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Asha is worrying us big time. She is in a very dangerous spot for leatherbacks these days: Cape Cod Bay. It is dense with lobster trap lines at this time of year. Mike James, our sea turtle scientist, is keeping our colleagues in New England updated so they know where Asha is. We are all closely watching her track in case the satellite transmissions begin to indicate that she has stopped moving and might be entangled.

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Search and find: Virginia Beach edition

One of the satellite tags (not the kind we follow online) used on loggerhead turtles tagged off Nova Scotia this summer fell off a turtle and was floating in the water.

We wanted to get it back. It contains information that will be useful and if it’s in reasonable condition, it can be deployed again on another turtle. Finding a small piece of floating equipment in the ocean is a tall order. Fortunately, the tag was transmitting information about its approximate location (within a few kilometers).

Canadian sea turtle scientist Mike James has been tracking the tag’s location as it drifted south from where it first came off a month ago at about the latitude of Rhode Island, USA. The battery was draining and he knew that the tag wouldn’t continue to transmit for much longer. He watched it as it meandered sometimes close to shore, sometimes kilometers off shore, most recently tossed in the currents in the approaches to Chesapeake Bay.

And then, the tag washed ashore Tuesday night at False Cape State Park in Virginia! Thrilled, Mike called the park manager, Kyle Barbour.

“I could see on Google Earth that the tag seemed to have lodged itself not far from some kind of building,” said Mike. “And on the other end of the phone, Kyle says, ‘I’m sitting in that building right now!’”

Kyle and his team at False Cape as well as volunteers from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response Program spent hours searching for the tag. False Cape is a remote wilderness park that preserves one of the last stretches of undeveloped American Atlantic coastline. The chief difficulty the search teams struggled with was the considerable amount of marine debris along the beach. They had to carefully comb through tangles of garbage and seaweed as they looked for the tag.

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Virginia Aquarium Stranding Team intern Christina Lavin (left) and Stranding Team volunteer Kelly Bushnell holding the tag. Kelly was the person who ultimately found it!

And just a few minutes ago, Sue Barco, senior scientist at the Aquarium, called me to say they had the tag!

We are really excited here about this amazing find. Sue was equally delighted. “We have a marine turtle program, too,” she said. “We know the value of these tags.”

It takes a lot to make sea turtle science work. I’m always so excited and happy when people from different countries come together in these situations. So, this afternoon, our thanks to our new friends in Virginia from False Cape and the Aquarium—who dropped everything in their busy days to help us!

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Hello, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and New England!

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When we first started studying leatherbacks in Canadian waters, the hypothesis was that if the turtles were here in any numbers at all (and—as funny as it seems now, at the time, that was a big if!), then they followed a particular corridor. From a conservation standpoint, following a corridor would have made our lives much easier. If the turtles use a narrow band of ocean, it is ostensibly simpler to protect their habitat.

But what our satellite tracking research has shown over the years is that turtles make broad use of the ocean, their track lines crisscrossing one another like noodles on a plate of spaghetti. The turtles we’re tracking this year are wonderful examples of what makes our work so interesting (and challenging). Each turtle is doing something different.

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Back on track

The sea turtle field season, which has just ended, is our most exciting time. It is also our busiest. For two months we work weekdays and weekends with lots of long hours. By the end we are tired…but still always sorry it’s over.

I had hoped to write more often over the summer, but I fell behind. Instead, I’ll fill you in on tales from the field over the next few weeks.

First, of course, is what is up with Beverly. If you look at the map below, you’ll see that she’s been joined by two other turtles: Asha and Christie whom we tagged the first week of August.

Here is a map of the three tracks on August 8.

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Here it is a bit closer up.

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And here is where the turtles are today.

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This is what Asha looks like.

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We weighed her, and she came in at just over 400 kilograms (almost 900 pounds). Her curved carapace length or CCL (the length over the curve of her top shell) was 158.4 cm. We don’t know where Asha is from, and we don’t know whether or not she’ll nest this season. She’s our mystery turtle for this year.

And this is Christie.

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When we found Christie, she was pretty scraped up. We’re not sure from what exactly. We weren’t able to weigh her, but she measured 159.2 CCL. Just a smidge bigger than Asha. Like Beverly, Christie is also a Trinidad turtle. She’s due to nest again this spring, which is exciting. She’s nested both at Matura Beach and at Grande Rivière in past years.

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