Monthly Archives: March 2015

No more Christie


Christie’s tag stopped transmitting on Saturday.

We are so disappointed. She was just 300 kilometers away from where we expected her to nest. She had logged approximately 11,500 kilometres since we tagged her.

Data from the tag on March 28 showed that she was diving normally and that the tag had plenty of battery. But, as you may remember, Christie had just started onto the shelf waters, a place where we know leatherbacks mate. It is our best guess that a male turtle damaged the antenna of the transmitter or knocked the tag off her altogether.

There is also always a possibility that she was caught in fishing gear.

If indeed, as we hope, Christie simply lost the tag mating, then we will keep our fingers crossed that someone finds our turtle when she eventually hauls up on the nesting beach. She should still have her flipper tags safely in place as well as her microchip. And there is a chance that her transmitter is still on. If that’s the case, the transmitter can be recovered—along with all of the important data it contains—if someone finds her. This happened before in the amazing story of Red Rockette. So we remain cautiously optimistic.

But we will miss following her movements. Christie was a bright spot in our days as we checked always with excitement to see how far she’d travelled. What a privilege it was to watch her remarkable journey (11,500 kilometres!!) up close.


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This is what I mean about the leatherback beeline. This morning, Christie is only about 400 km from Fishing Pond beach, the place where she was seen nesting in 2011. She’s starting to head north along the shelf break to Trinidad.


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Time for Trinidad


Now we’re focused on Christie (although I do note that Beverly is moving more convincingly south). Christie is doing the amazing leatherback beeline. I love this part. After months of navigating the enormous ocean, she is heading directly for the waters off the Trinidad nesting beaches. Check out this close-up map.


Christie is covering a lot of distance quickly. She could be there within just a few weeks. We expect her to travel up and down the coast of Trinidad once she arrives in the vicinity—making us crazy wondering which night she’ll pick to haul ashore. Lots of excitement to come!

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Plots thicken


As I mentioned last week, I’m keeping my eye on Beverly right now. Still moving south. I think we’ll know in just a few more days whether or not she’s going to start the great swim toward Trinidad. I have the same feeling I get when I want to know the ending of a story right away without waiting any longer. And in this case, I can’t flip to the final pages of a book to satisfy my curiosity. Turtles teach me patience!

I’m glad to see Christie is heading closer to Trinidad.

It’s been one month since we last heard from Asha. And I have to admit wondering where she is, too. Asha was our mystery turtle this year. She didn’t have a recorded nesting history. No flipper tags. No microchip. Where she went was going to be a complete surprise. Hope we get to find out someday.


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Heading north and south and maybe west


Christie is turning a little to the north right now. As you may remember, she has a history of nesting in Trinidad. We expect she’ll meander around the waters off the coast for a few weeks yet. Pretty soon, every time she looks like she might dart in close to shore, we’ll start to get jumpy and wonder if tonight is the night when she nests. That is always fun.

The turtle I’m particularly interested in today, however, is Beverly. Right now she is almost exactly halfway between the coast of Newfoundland and the coast of Spain. She’s approximately 1,700 kilometers from each.

But have a close look. She moved south and the tiniest bit west. I see that she’s done this before. But I think at some point Beverly is going to take off and catch up with Christie because Beverly also has a history of nesting in Trinidad. She was seen on the beach nesting there in 2013, which makes it reasonable to expect her to be back this year.

At this point, Beverly is about 4,500 kilometres from Trinidad. That’s a long swim! But maybe she’s heading there now?

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Mike James (left) and Nicholas Mrosovsky on the sea turtle boat.

Mike James (left) and Nicholas Mrosovsky on the sea turtle boat.

Nicholas Mrosovsky is one of the only visitors to our project to miss seeing a leatherback. Usually, even if the weather is bad and turtles are scarce, we are able to find one. But Nicholas struck out both times he came with us, spending cumulatively more than a week of days out on the boat to no end.

It was particularly disappointing because Nicholas was one of the “original” sea turtle scientists. His work on how the temperature of incubating eggs affects the sex of the hatchling turtles is a cornerstone of sea turtle biology. Nicholas had published two papers with Mike James, our science advisor, with the help of the CSTN–one about the body temperatures of leatherbacks and one about leatherback turtles ingesting plastics. We were desperate to show him the magnificence of a leatherback swimming in the sea.

Nicholas died on February 22. His family and friends are together today, celebrating his remarkable life on what would have been his 81st birthday.

There are many reasons I loved Nicholas. He was funny and a gentleman. He was a scientist who was also a talented painter. He was, from our first meeting in 2001, always extremely kind to me and concerned for the success of our sea turtle work in Canada. (He was a Canadian, too, after all.) Nicholas was very tall—well over six feet—and rail-thin, which gave him a quality of physical frailty that belied his strength and the years he spent working on nesting beaches of Central and South America.

But what I think I admired most about him was his absolute commitment to finding what was true and to using precise language to describe that truth. Nicholas said what he thought was true even when it made him (sometimes extremely) unpopular. He sent colleagues critiques of their published work because he felt it mattered that all of us used our intelligence to help perfect the scientific process and our findings. He didn’t seem as worried about how his thoughts might be received (not everyone wants their work critiqued!) as he was about registering them—he seemed to have a sense of this as a moral responsibility.

It takes courage to say what is true, and it takes a type of enduring fortitude to turn that behaviour into a practice. It also takes a refined sense of yourself as part of a larger community of thinkers collectively working to use science to improve the world and our understanding of it.

2015_03_03_SEAFdedicationWe have many of Nicholas’ papers archived at the Canadian Sea Turtle Network. They came in boxes and padded envelopes over the years—articles and letters and research notes. And one day, in amongst the box, were gifts, both of which sit on my bookshelf where I see them daily. One was his copy of the seminal sea turtle book So Excellent a Fishe by Archie Carr, complete with Carr’s inscription in it. I particularly love the title page of the book, which has Nicholas’ lightly penciled notes scattered along the side.

The second was another book called Creatures of the Sea by Frank T. Bullen, first published in 1904. It is opulent, the way some older books are. I think it must have appealed both to Nicholas’ curiosity and his appreciation of art. When I opened it I saw that Nicholas had carefully marked pages with yellow post-its, so I could easily find the engravings of sea turtles.


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