Tag Archives: Asha

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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Asha’s track is finished


No new hits from Asha. We’ve heard nothing from her tag since February 11. She has officially gone offline.

The question in these situations is always: Why?

I can’t answer with certainty except to say I don’t know.

We don’t think that she has been hurt. Because her tag hits trickled down, it is unlikely that we’ve lost contact for any reason other than the failure of the tag in some respect.

It is possible that the tag was knocked off of her shell, though this is also unlikely because the hits to the satellite slowly decreased.

It is most likely that the tag was biofouled, which happens when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag and impact how it performs.

But here is the silver lining. She may yet be found (as in the remarkable case of Red Rockette!). In addition to her satellite tag, Asha was wearing flipper tags. These are the small metal tags sea turtle researchers attach to turtles’ flippers as a way of identifying the animals. The tags have an ID code on one side (our codes start with CAN for “Canada”) and the research group’s mailing address on the other. Asha is also microchipped with a number that is linked to our group.

So if she does nest on a beach where there is a monitoring program, one of our colleagues in the Caribbean will find her and will be able to tell us about her. If we’re extra lucky, she’ll still be wearing the satellite tag and we’ll have the chance to get it back.

The trick with Asha, however, is that she has no known nesting history. She was not previously flipper tagged or microchipped by another group. We didn’t know where in the ocean she was going.

So the happy ending to this story that we’re hoping for may be some time in coming. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that Asha stays safe in the meantime.

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Snow days


There are sloppy snowflakes flying outside my window as I type. The traffic is moving slowly, wipers going, trying to slough off the accumulating snow. The houses across the street are getting harder to see as the storm persists. We’ve had a lot of snow in Nova Scotia lately. (Here’s one take on our weather that might make you laugh.)

So you can appreciate why I’m wishing, just a bit, that I were with Christie right now—off the northeast coast of South America, where it is warm and where there will not be shoveling of driveways tonight. (But there won’t be snowmen or sledding or the sound of crunchy snow either, I suppose.)

Beverly has found a way to stay north and warm, hanging out in the Gulf Stream, still.

And Asha. We haven’t heard from her transmitter again since last week. If we don’t get any hits by the next map update, we’ll know her track is finished. I’ll hold out a little hope until then.

In the meantime, I’ll bundle up.

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And she’s back


This is what I mean. You just never know.

Asha’s tag is transmitting again—not regularly, but enough to let us know where she is. We’ve had five good locations from her in the last week. Normally we’d expect that many per day, but we’ll take what we can get. Regardless, she’s really on the move now. Watch out Christie! (Not that it’s a competition…)

So good news from here!


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Transmission trouble


Beverly is still way north and east of where we’d expect to see her. She’s only about 330 km from the Azores! Christie is just where we’d expect her—about 1,600 km from Trinidad, where she should be heading to nest in the next few months.

And then there is Asha. You can see that we haven’t had a good hit from her satellite tag since last week. We’re not getting any satellite locations from her tag, although the tag is still trying to communicate.

In order to get a location, the satellite must receive approximately four messages from the tag when it passes over. It takes that much information to verify where the tag is. Right now, it seems as though Asha’s tag is sending only one message at a time. We haven’t determined why quite yet, though we suspect the tag might have biofouling issues. Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag and impact its performance.

Although frustrating, this isn’t unusual. You may remember a similar situation with Jacquelyn and the remarkable story of Red Rockette!

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You think you know


So if this were a race to the nesting beach, you might be inclined to think Christie is going to win it.

I’m not so sure.

Look at how Asha is starting to head south. (I feel like I’ve said that before, and then Asha has just turned back north again, but I think this may really be her, heading south!) She might surprise you.

But the biggest surprise of all may come from Beverly, who has been—well generally surprising anyway. She’s still far, far north of where we’d expect to find her at this time of the year. But you just never know with leatherbacks. It could change really quickly.

Christie, for example, who has been following the more traditional path of “Canadian” leatherbacks, may just decide to stop and hang out off the beaches long enough for one of those other two turtles to make it in to nest ahead of her.

Not that it’s a competition.

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This week’s map

The turtles are staying their courses. Beverly is a little bit further east. Asha continues to meander in and out of Canadian waters. And Christie is motoring south.

When we found Christie, she had flipper tags from Trinidad. Flipper tags are small metal tags that sea turtle researchers attach to turtles’ flippers as a way of identifying the animals. The tags have a code made up of numbers and letters on one side (ours start with CAN for “Canada”) and the research group’s mailing address on the other. Given her nesting history, we expect Christie is heading back to Trinidad for this year’s nesting season.

Beverly, too, had flipper tags from Trinidad. I wonder if she’ll eventually turn south to get there?


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Where to?


Most turtles are thousands of kilometers south of where we initially satellite tagged them by now. Christie is an excellent example of this. She is the classic post-foraging (feeding) season “Canadian” leatherback.

Asha and Beverly, on the other hand, are a different story. These tracks are anomalous. Asha actually recently briefly popped back into Canadian waters! She’s just about 500 kilometres from where we tagged her at the start of August.

“It’s not behaviour we’ve ever previously observed in leatherbacks that have just finished a foraging season in continental shelf waters off Atlantic Canada,” said Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James. “What we’ve observed with these two turtles is more akin to what has been observed for turtles departing nesting beaches in the western Atlantic.”

If you click here and also here, you will find the tracks of leatherback turtles that were satellite tagged on nesting beaches in South America and the Caribbean. Some of them travelled through the same area Beverly is in.

“Asha and Beverly are effectively staying at high latitudes, at least for now. But although these are northern waters, they are not cold because they are under the influence of the warm Gulf Stream current,” Mike continued. “The edge of that current represents a dynamic, productive environment where the turtles are clearly finding prey. It’s possible the turtles may even over-winter at high latitudes within the influence of the northern edge of the Gulf Stream; however, at this point, it’s really too early to tell. Either turtle would still have plenty of time to head down to Trinidad or one of the other nesting colonies and nest this season.”

I wish you could hear the precise note in Mike’s voice as he talked—a combination of “Hmm, why doesn’t this fit the pattern?” and the exciting, “Hey! This doesn’t fit the pattern!” crossed with a dose of extreme, infectious curiosity.

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And today in turtle tracks

This is, I have to say, an awesome year for turtle tracks. Christie, Beverly and Asha are still making interesting moves.


Christie is possibly the most traditional of these tracks at this point. She has obviously begun her trek south, racing down ahead of the others. What I love most about her track is that sharp, almost 90-degree turn she made at the start of November. I am always intrigued by that sudden change—the switch flipping—that we don’t yet understand—that sent her south—that made her determine, Now is the time.

Although Beverly is still really far north as far as our experience of leatherbacks migrating from Canadian waters goes, it is worth noting that she is spending all of her time in water between 15 and 18-degrees Celsius. It is so interesting to see how closely she is skirting the colder water masses just to the north and east of her. Look at the similarity in the shape of her track and the changes between yellow and green in this map.


And Asha remains fascinating, too. If you look at the close-up map below, you’ll see that she swam two huge circles corresponding to the perimeter of a persistent oceanic gyre. And after wandering down the shelf slope and reaching Cape Hatteras, she’s being deflected back north again.

I love that we are wondering every time we check our data what exactly we’re going to find.


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Heading south-ish


These turtles are not in a hurry. They’re starting their migration to the nesting grounds, but they aren’t definitively swimming south yet. Asha, as you can see from her detailed track below, started south, and then looped up again back onto the shelf break. At this point, she is foraging on jellies as she travels and likely found a patch of them. We’ve seen leatherbacks do this many times before.2014_11_04_Asha

Christie and Beverly have tracks that are a bit more unusual.

Christie is still hanging out in the northern foraging domain. She hasn’t decided to head out yet. When she does, we’ll see her covering long distances relatively quickly. Right now, she is near the Virgin Rocks on the Grand Banks. The water there at this time of year is under the strong influence of the Gulf Stream, so is certainly warm enough for her.

Beverly is particularly interesting. We’ve seen lots of leatherbacks head far to the east—almost to the African continent—before turning back west to the nesting grounds on this side of the Atlantic. However, we’ve never seen a leatherback go this far east while at a latitude this far north. Beverly is 400 km southeast of the Flemmish Cap—in territory “our” Canadian leatherbacks haven’t covered before.

This is one of the reasons I find satellite tracks of leatherbacks so fascinating. Although we’ve satellite tagged 86 turtles, there is always something new to learn. The leatherbacks surprise us.

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