Tag Archives: loggerhead turtles

Little sea turtles

Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

These two sweeties were in our office this morning: a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle. They were both found dead along the Nova Scotia shore of the Bay of Fundy. They are small—juvenile turtles—and they are something to see in person. I am struck by how delicate a turtle, despite its shell, can seem. How vulnerable.

There are only a dozen Kemp’s ridley sightings on record in Nova Scotia. Kemp’s are considered the most endangered of the world’s sea turtles. And although we know we have loggerheads in Atlantic Canadian waters, it is rare for us to come across one this young.

These little turtles are, of course, much, much smaller than a leatherback. Scientists measure sea turtles using their shell length, which we refer to as the Curved Carapace Length or “CCL.” The smallest leatherback turtle we have ever worked with had a CCL of just under 120 cm. This Kemp’s had a CCL of 27 cm and the loggerhead had a CCL of 24.5 cm.

We won’t know for certain why these turtles died until our friend Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust at the University of Prince Edward Island conducts the necropsy (which is like an autopsy) on them next week. But it is a safe bet that they died of hypothermia.

Leatherbacks are able to withstand colder water temperatures than hard-shelled turtles (like Kemp’s and loggerheads) can. When hard-shelled turtles suddenly find themselves in cold water, they become “cold stunned.” If they are found soon enough they can survive. In November and December, sea turtles routinely cold stun along the coast of New England. Last year, there were an unprecedented number.

The Kemp’s was found by Betty Kenneally. Betty walks the beach near her home four times a week. She isn’t patrolling for sea turtles specifically, but this happens to be the second Kemp’s ridley turtle she’s found and reported to us.

The loggerhead was found by Carrie Dickie, who was walking the beach near her home. Her husband, Gerald Dickie, a biologist himself, carefully recorded all of the details of the animal for us.

Gerald Dickie's careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Gerald Dickie’s careful record of the loggerhead turtle Carrie Dickie found stranded on the coast of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

We are so grateful that they thought to call us. If you live in Nova Scotia and are interested in helping us patrol the beaches for these animals over the next six weeks, please email us at: info@seaturtle.ca.

I’ve seen many dead sea turtles over the years. And each time I wish I could whisper a bit of life into them in the way one might be allowed in a Disney film. Something to make the heads lift up and the flippers move. Something that would allow us to send them safely back into the ocean.

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Search and find: Virginia Beach edition

One of the satellite tags (not the kind we follow online) used on loggerhead turtles tagged off Nova Scotia this summer fell off a turtle and was floating in the water.

We wanted to get it back. It contains information that will be useful and if it’s in reasonable condition, it can be deployed again on another turtle. Finding a small piece of floating equipment in the ocean is a tall order. Fortunately, the tag was transmitting information about its approximate location (within a few kilometers).

Canadian sea turtle scientist Mike James has been tracking the tag’s location as it drifted south from where it first came off a month ago at about the latitude of Rhode Island, USA. The battery was draining and he knew that the tag wouldn’t continue to transmit for much longer. He watched it as it meandered sometimes close to shore, sometimes kilometers off shore, most recently tossed in the currents in the approaches to Chesapeake Bay.

And then, the tag washed ashore Tuesday night at False Cape State Park in Virginia! Thrilled, Mike called the park manager, Kyle Barbour.

“I could see on Google Earth that the tag seemed to have lodged itself not far from some kind of building,” said Mike. “And on the other end of the phone, Kyle says, ‘I’m sitting in that building right now!’”

Kyle and his team at False Cape as well as volunteers from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response Program spent hours searching for the tag. False Cape is a remote wilderness park that preserves one of the last stretches of undeveloped American Atlantic coastline. The chief difficulty the search teams struggled with was the considerable amount of marine debris along the beach. They had to carefully comb through tangles of garbage and seaweed as they looked for the tag.

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Virginia Aquarium Stranding Team intern Christina Lavin (left) and Stranding Team volunteer Kelly Bushnell holding the tag. Kelly was the person who ultimately found it!

And just a few minutes ago, Sue Barco, senior scientist at the Aquarium, called me to say they had the tag!

We are really excited here about this amazing find. Sue was equally delighted. “We have a marine turtle program, too,” she said. “We know the value of these tags.”

It takes a lot to make sea turtle science work. I’m always so excited and happy when people from different countries come together in these situations. So, this afternoon, our thanks to our new friends in Virginia from False Cape and the Aquarium—who dropped everything in their busy days to help us!

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Sea turtles in snow

I was home, ready to start dinner when the turtle hotline rang. One of my favourite people was on the phone. John Angus MacIntyre works in the Conservation and Protection Office in Port Hood, Nova Scotia. John Angus is always kind and funny. He is also smart and resourceful. Things get done when he’s involved.

“Believe it or not, we’ve got a turtle for you here, Kathleen,” he said. “Down on the beach at Baxter’s Cove in Judique. I’m just here now at the house of the guy who found it. It’s dead.”

Judique is a good three hours drive from Halifax where our office is. I looked out my kitchen window. Snowflakes were drifting down in earnest.

“I’ll go out and have a look at it and make sure it won’t get washed away in the tide. Then we’ll help you deal with it in the morning. I’ll call you first thing,” he said.

It was dark by this time and freezing cold. The wind by the shore would be sharp and bitter. But John Angus collected his camera and drove to the beach—long after his workday should have ended. Within a few hours, a set of photographs appeared in my inbox. They were of a loggerhead turtle, its body encrusted in snow and frozen sand.

This isn’t the first sea turtle to wash up dead in the winter. There have been several over the years. The photographs are truly Canadian—a real reminder that we work with these animals in a place that is radically different from the places they inhabit in the south.

Devan_loggerhead_CThe loggerhead is now in the back of our field truck. This is a picture of it with Devan, our turtle technician. The turtle is a juvenile and, as you’ll notice, it has been dead for a while. The skin has worn off its head, parts of its flippers are missing, the bone on its shell is exposed in many places. But it is still something quite amazing to see.

The loggerhead’s next stop is the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where our friend and colleague Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust will perform a necropsy (which is like an autopsy) to determine its cause of death. Our best guess now is that the turtle died of hypothermia. We’ll keep you posted.

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