Category Archives: Field season

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:

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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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Meet Beverly

It has been a slow leatherback season so far. Lots of turtle-less days on the water. So we are thrilled to tell you that we have now satellite tagged Beverly!

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She is a female leatherback and she had flipper tags from Trinidad. We checked with Kyle at the Nature Seekers and they last saw Beverly nesting in Trinidad in 2013. That means there is a good chance she’ll nest again this coming spring. If that is the case, hopefully she’ll be found by our friends in Trinidad. If so, we’ll get her satellite transmitter back.

This map shows how far Beverly has to swim between Nova Scotia and Trinidad. Beverly’s position is marked with the red dot. Trinidad is off the northeast tip of South America and is circled in black.

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But it’ll be more than a month before Beverly starts her trek south. At the moment, we’re really interested in how she is traveling in Canada. We find her track extremely interesting because she is hugging the coast of Nova Scotia. Although we expected her to continue to head up toward Cape Breton Island, it is unusual to see a turtle swimming quite so close to shore. This map shows you what I mean.

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Wind

This is the time of year when we obsess about the wind. Our greetings to one another in person or over the phone—and in texts several times a day—are invariably, “Hey! What’s it calling for?”

I suppose when we are in field mode, the state of the wind correlates to our state of mind: Light winds make us happy. Gusty weather frustrates us.

In order to find leatherbacks at sea, you need “flat calm” weather—a condition some of the fishermen we know describe more memorably as “piss on a platter.”

That kind of sea makes it easier to find the head of a leatherback poking out of the water. This is a picture from a perfect weather day.

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This is what it looks like on an “okay” day—much harder to pick out the leatherback, particularly from a distance. As the ocean becomes choppier, it becomes harder to determine from far away what is a wave turning over on itself and what is the dark flash of a leatherback head.

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Of course, we don’t go out in really rough weather. Not only would it be too difficult to find the animals, it would be impossible to work with them because of their size.

Tomorrow it’s calling for lightish winds in the morning. If that doesn’t change, our field team will be out for Day 1 of the season. (I will be here in the office. I don’t usually head out on the boat until August.) Devan, our turtle technician, left the office a few minutes ago to sort out some field equipment.

“Maybe I won’t see you tomorrow!” he called, as he headed toward the door. And then, cheerfully, “Maybe I won’t see you for a long time!”

“What’s it calling for?”

“Weekend looks really good and into next week.”

Excellent news.

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