Tag Archives: Jacquelyn

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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The beeline


Today there is good news and not-so-good news about Margaret.

The good news is that she is making a beeline for the nesting beaches of Trinidad. Check out this map.


She left coastal Barbados three days ago, and look at how close she is to Trinidad already! The nesting season has already started there, although peak season is still about two months away.

2014_02_27_Map_TrinidadIn the Atlantic, mature female leatherback turtles do not nest every year. They nest every two or three years. During their nesting years, they will generally lay around eight nests, about 10 days apart. In 2011, Margaret was recorded nesting both at Matura and Grande Riviere beaches in Trinidad. We’ve contacted our colleagues who work on those beaches, and we will continue to keep them posted about Margaret’s location. We hope that they will find her when she nests and remove her valuable transmitter so we can deploy it on another leatherback in Canada.

The not-so-good news is that the quality of the locations we’ve received from Margaret’s transmitter over the past few days has not been good. I yelled “No!” out loud this morning when Devan, our turtle technician, told me that the last series of locations were  “B” class. B-class locations are the poorest quality, and generally indicate that only two tag transmissions were received by the satellite to calculate the turtle’s position. The more transmissions the satellite receives, the better its estimate of the turtle’s location.

A long series of B location estimates—especially over several days—can mean the turtle is spending very little time at the surface of the water. It can also mean that the tag is running low on battery power or has started to “biofoul.” Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles colonize on the tag. This can negatively impact the tag’s performance.

This may mean that we will lose transmissions from Margaret’s transmitter altogether—even before she makes it to the nesting beach. (You may remember this is what happened with Jacquelyn.) It doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t find Margaret on the beach anyway. Last year, dedicated beach workers in Colombia found our turtle Red Rockette after her transmitter had stopped working. It’s just a lot harder to do.

I hate when this happens just when the animals are so close to nesting! But at least we know where Margaret is heading. Stay tuned…

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Mystery turtles and turtles on TV

It’s official. Jacquelyn’s transmitter has stopped sending signals altogether. We had no information on her nesting origins when we tagged her. She was our mystery turtle. And so she remains.


But, in addition to her transmitter, Jacquelyn has a microchip in her shoulder muscle (called a “PIT”) and small metal tags on her rear flippers that identify her as a Canadian turtle. So when she nests someday, if we’re lucky, our research partners in the south will find her.

In our experience, it’s best to be an optimist if you are going to do environmental work. So we’re betting on luck helping us out with this one.

Miss Margaret is still going strong, swimming close to Barbados now as you can see.


She has a history of nesting in Trinidad, so we’re curious to see how long it is before she hauls up on a beach. We don’t expect this to happen for at least another month or two.

In the meantime, Margaret is going to be on television at the end of January!

We’re really excited about a documentary film about our leatherback work airing on CBC’s The Nature of Things on January 30 (at 7 p.m.). The film was made by award-winning directors Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason and produced by Tell Tale Productions. You can check out the “Behind the Scenes” trailer here.

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Our turtles’ tracks are no longer hugging tightly to one another. Instead, you can see Miss Margaret making her way toward the nesting beaches. We know that she has nested in Trinidad before, so we ultimately expect to see her land there.


You’ll note that the last date for Jacquelyn’s track is January 5. This is because we haven’t had a good quality location from her transmitter since then. We’ve had some poor quality locations over the last few days and have heard nothing yet today.

We aren’t worried that something has happened to Jacquelyn herself at this point. We suspect instead that there may be epibionts (organisms, like barnacles or algae, that live on other organisms) growing on her satellite tag, preventing it from working properly.

When this happens, we say that the tag is “biofouled.” Biofouling is a problem because it prevents the salt-water switch on the tag from drying out properly. When the salt-water switch is dry (which normally happens when the turtle is at the surface of the water), the satellite tag transmits data. If the switch isn’t dry or if it is covered, the data is not transmitted.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens over the next week or two.

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Holiday tracks

Here is where Margaret and Jacquelyn are today!


And a close up…



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Turtle Tracks

The latest in Margaret and Jacquelyn’s migration south.Dec13_fullextent


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Thanksgiving and maps

You probably don’t want to hear me say “Can you believe these turtles are still moving at approximately the same rate and in the same direction?!” again because I’ve said that before. (But I’m thinking it.)


I like this first map because it shows beautifully how much more time these leatherbacks spent in Canadian waters—where they were resident for a few months—than in any other place on their trek south. All of those bright dots layer on top of one another up around Atlantic Canada, and then stretch out like a line. We will see the dots doubling over themselves again when Margaret and Jacquelyn reach the place to which they’re migrating—though exactly where or when that will happen I can’t say.

I also like this map because it shows our turtles reaching the edge of it—straining the boundaries of that North-America-centric view. It sets us up for the wonder of the next map—which reveals how much more there is to see in the world. How much bigger the world is than just our own place.


And that’s something I’m thankful for on this American Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful for a big world with lots of places in it, and the gift of sea turtles that help connect them.



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Just keep swimming

This new Margaret and Jacquelyn map—which is a close up of where they are today—shows them swimming almost neatly down the middle of the Atlantic. I think this map makes that expanse of blue between Africa and South America seem small–as though our turtles are a stone’s throw from either side. It is easy to forget looking at a map just how far those distances actually are. And what is consistently incredible to me is that the turtles swim the whole way. Imagine it—one flipper stroke after another taking them in a matter of months distances we could never swim ourselves—distances it takes us hours and hours to cover on an airplane. Over a decade ago, I read an old report about the anatomy of a leatherback. There was a list of scientific notes that were foreign to me like: “Parietal bones lack descending processes” and “Palatine fenestra also absent.” And then, a few lines down were the words “enormous swimming muscles.” That phrase still sticks with me. Enormous swimming muscles.


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Me and you and you and me

The lyrics for “So Happy Together” by the group The Turtles keeps running through my head. Leatherbacks are reptiles. They are not social animals. This means they do not travel “together” like whales do, for example. They do not form family groups. Leatherbacks are independent. Each turtle makes its own way in the world. Given the breadth of the ocean that Jacquelyn and Margaret could choose to use, it is amazing that they are hanging so closely together. If this were a Disney movie, they would be friends.



Below is a close-up of where they are.



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Neck and neck


The tracks for Margaret and Jacquelyn are oddly similar. It isn’t strange that they are both heading southeast. That is relatively typical leatherback behaviour. But what we find interesting is that these two animals—randomly satellite tagged at different places and times this summer—just happen to be moving almost parallel to one another (although about 100 kilometres apart). If you look at these maps, which show the ten turtles we satellite tagged in 2012 for the Great Canadian Turtle Race, you’ll see what a variety of routes leatherbacks often take. I wonder how long our girls will stay near each other?

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