Tag 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:

2015_09_22

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Beverly’s feast

2015_04_10

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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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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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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