Margaret, as you can see, is still hanging out in waters off Barbados. It’s snowing outside the window as I type. I can’t help but be a little jealous of her! Here’s a close up of her track.
Peggy was a leatherback turtle we satellite tagged on Matura Beach in Trinidad at the end of May last year. She was a “Canadian.” When we found her on the beach, she was wearing flipper tags that showed we had worked with her in waters off Halifax in July 2009.
Normally we only work with leatherbacks in Canadian waters. This was the first time we put a satellite tag on a leatherback on a nesting beach. It was exciting and the result of a collaboration with our friends Dr. Scott Eckert, the Nature Seekers in Trinidad, and CBC’s The Nature of Things. Many people have asked us about her since seeing the documentary CBC aired last week. (If you are in Canada, you can watch the documentary that includes Peggy here.)
This is a picture of Peggy heading back into the ocean after we satellite tagged her. It is dark because leatherbacks nest at night.
We had hoped to follow Peggy’s track as she migrated back up to Atlantic Canadian waters. As you can see, however, Peggy’s track only lasted for 35 days.
She returned to Matura Beach three times to nest after she was satellite tagged. The third time, the Nature Seekers team observed her and had the chance to photograph her. She looked great, as did her tag. She left after that third nesting and headed out to an area off Galera Point to wait out “follicle development.” Her behaviour was typical of a leatherback getting ready to nest again.
Then she disappeared.
There is a lot of gillnet fishing in the area where we last heard from Peggy. Leatherbacks are routinely accidentally caught in this fishery. We talked to a fisherman from that area, who talked to others in his community. Although none of them reported catching a leatherback with a transmitter on her, it is still our best guess that Peggy was accidentally caught in a gillnet and died as a result.
It doesn’t matter to Margaret that her national television debut is tonight on The Nature of Things. As you can see, she is hanging out off Barbados in water that’s about 27 degrees Celsius (who can blame her?), oblivious to our human world.
This is one of the things I love most about leatherbacks. How little we mean to them.
Until, of course, we mean everything—when what we do threatens their lives.
I don’t know what you will see if you watch the leatherback documentary tonight. We have worked with the filmmakers, Teresa MacInnes and Kent Nason, and TellTale Productions for the last year. We’ve spent hundreds of hours together all told. But the end result—the final cut—has been a secret.
But what I can tell you is how hard Teresa, Kent and their fantastic team have worked—through personal tragedy and a compressed timeline and uncooperative weather and failed technology. They have stayed focused and cheerful and determined to help convey the beauty and magnificence and tremendous importance of leatherbacks to our country and the world.
And for that we are so grateful to them.
So please, if you are in Canada, tune in tonight at 7 p.m. on CBC (7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).
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.