Category Archives: Map

Beverly

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It’s generally the time of year that we start to get very excited about our turtles heading to the nesting beach.

I had been, as you know, particularly curious about what Beverly was going to do. Beverly has been one of our most interesting leatherbacks. She has a nesting history in Trinidad that suggested she should have nested there last year. But as you may remember, she didn’t. Instead, she slowly looped eastward.

You can see from the map below that Beverly went south this year. Part of me was glad in that I-told-you-so kind of way. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do, is how I felt. She’s doing the thing that fits my human, scientific-box-of-a-Beverly.

I settled back, excited to follow her to the nesting beach at Matura.

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But then her transmitter stopped working. There are a number of reasons this might happen, but in this case, we think the cause was biofouling—when organisims like barnacles or algae grow on the satellite tag and prevent it from working properly.

So we have to wait to see what will happen next. Hopefully, our friends at Matura Beach in Trinidad will find her nesting there this year as she has in the past. They’ll recognize her either from the transmitter (if it hasn’t fallen off) or from her flipper tags.

Or maybe she’ll haul up on an isolated stretch of beach in Trinidad, where no one finds her and we have to wait for many years and many more nests to hear from her again.

The scientific part of me wants her to be found in the next few weeks. The part of me that likes happy endings wants this, too. The loop closed—from Canada to the Caribbean—feeding to nesting. A safe journey from one “home” to the other.

But then I remember, a few years ago, standing on Matura nesting beach myself in the dark night. The loud wind blowing clouds across the bright moon like dried fall leaves. The turtles hauling up out of the surf around me, slowly making their laboured way up the sand to lay their eggs as their species has done for millions of years. For millions of years.

And there is something I love about the idea of Beverly doing this away from our human eyes. Alone. Wild. It seems just like her.

 

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Nicole and the map

Here is where our turtles are:

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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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Turtle tracks are back!

Here is where our turtles are today:

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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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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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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:

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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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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.

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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.

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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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Sharon joins the turtle crew

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And now there are three turtles to follow again.

Our friends at the Nature Seekers satellite tagged another “Canadian” turtle at Matura Beach, Trinidad, that we have named Sharon. She is the blue dot, just below Christie’s green dot.

Here is a closer look at Sharon’s movements over the last few weeks:

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And here is a closer look at Christie’s track:

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Both turtles are hanging near the coast. As you may remember, leatherbacks nest several times during a season. The days between each nesting event are called the “internesting interval.” During this time, while the next clutch of eggs is developing, the turtles are typically close to shore and within about 100 kilometers of their nesting beaches.

The part about this normal behaviour that makes us uneasy is that the turtles’ chance of entanglement in fishing gear at this time of year is high. So we’re doing the only thing we can: crossing our fingers and hoping that Sharon and Christie stay safe.

We’re also keeping an eye on Beverly, whom you may have noticed has turned and started swimming west again—perhaps on her way back home.

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Beverly’s feast

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Well, my prediction that Beverly would turn suddenly down to the nesting beach was wrong. She is still hanging off the Azores, and not heading to Trinidad. The reason I’d been so sure she might go to a beach there was because she had been recorded nesting in Trinidad before—and the last time was in 2013.

Most leatherbacks in the western Atlantic nest every two to three years. The majority nests every two years (hence, my assumptions about Beverly). The time between nesting years is called the “remigration interval,” and it varies, sometimes by many years. Pacific leatherbacks, for example, have remigration intervals that are closer to four years.

Scientists think the remigration interval reflects the amount of food a turtle finds on her migration. The interval is the time it takes the leatherback to eat enough to generate the energy required to migrate back to the breeding ground and reproduce.

“It’s not surprising that she’s not remigrating,” says Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James. “What is interesting is that Beverly is so far north. She must have found an abundant food resource because she’s stayed in the same area for months, which is unusual. I imagine she’s good and fat by now. I’m curious to see in the next few months what she does—whether she goes back to the slope waters off Canada, or whether she does what none of our tagged animals has done before, and goes east.”

If Beverly does head back into Canadian waters, maybe we’ll find her again up here this summer.

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No more Christie

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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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Close-up

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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