Tag Archives: nesting

Time for Trinidad

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Now we’re focused on Christie (although I do note that Beverly is moving more convincingly south). Christie is doing the amazing leatherback beeline. I love this part. After months of navigating the enormous ocean, she is heading directly for the waters off the Trinidad nesting beaches. Check out this close-up map.

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Christie is covering a lot of distance quickly. She could be there within just a few weeks. We expect her to travel up and down the coast of Trinidad once she arrives in the vicinity—making us crazy wondering which night she’ll pick to haul ashore. Lots of excitement to come!

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Plots thicken

2015_03_12

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

2015_02_26

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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Transmission trouble

2015_02_05

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

2015_01_30

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?

2015_01_15

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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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Meet Beverly

It has been a slow leatherback season so far. Lots of turtle-less days on the water. So we are thrilled to tell you that we have now satellite tagged Beverly!

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She is a female leatherback and she had flipper tags from Trinidad. We checked with Kyle at the Nature Seekers and they last saw Beverly nesting in Trinidad in 2013. That means there is a good chance she’ll nest again this coming spring. If that is the case, hopefully she’ll be found by our friends in Trinidad. If so, we’ll get her satellite transmitter back.

This map shows how far Beverly has to swim between Nova Scotia and Trinidad. Beverly’s position is marked with the red dot. Trinidad is off the northeast tip of South America and is circled in black.

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But it’ll be more than a month before Beverly starts her trek south. At the moment, we’re really interested in how she is traveling in Canada. We find her track extremely interesting because she is hugging the coast of Nova Scotia. Although we expected her to continue to head up toward Cape Breton Island, it is unusual to see a turtle swimming quite so close to shore. This map shows you what I mean.

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Trinidad—Last Day

No CAN turtle. Not on Grande Rivière and not on Matura—despite lots of effort looking. It reminds me how lucky we were to come across Peggy last year. The film crew from NHK has left Suzan’s Guest House. We’ll see them again up at our Cape Breton field site in August.

It never really occurred to me that we wouldn’t find our CAN turtle to satellite tag. I knew it wasn’t a guarantee, but I thought it would happen because it would have been a good thing—it would have given us important scientific data. I thought it would happen because we tried hard—because we wanted it to.

I know that nature doesn’t work that way. It’s part of what I love about the environment and humans’ relationship with it. But it’s still incredibly frustrating!

Mike and Kyle

Mike and Kyle

“We know we’ll find her when you leave!” laughed Kyle Mitchell, one of the Nature Seekers. He manages their database, and is the person who sends us information on the CAN turtles they find at Matura. He knows how excited we get when he emails. (Mike, in particular, greets each new tag recovery with incredible enthusiasm—as though someone is calling with news about an old friend.)

On our last afternoon in Trinidad—after hours and hours of hiking each night—Scott said, “And for fun, let’s go hiking!”

He brought us on a trail through the jungle.

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(“I always hope I’ll see a bushmaster on this trail,” Scott said to me as we walked. “They are so cool.” I knew Mike would be equally pleased. I, however, had my fingers crossed that the big venomous pit viper would stay away.)

It was a beautiful hike down a path mostly marked by the large, twisting roots of trees. The trail ended at a waterfall that crashed into a green-blue pool. Devan, Mike, Scott and I were the only people there.

I followed along the yellow rope tied across the pool to help swimmers brace themselves against the power of the waterfall. I held myself under it as it drenched my face and roared in my ears. Then I floated on my back, letting its current push me away. I watched the sky. The sunlight slipped down through the layers of leaves high above me—some wispy, some shiny green, some slatted like blinds. I watched their patterns shifting in the breeze.

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Trinidad Day 5

Tonight we went to Grande Rivière, the beach where Margaret nested. It is a two-hour drive up the winding Toco Main Road from Matura. It took us a little longer on the way there. We were running low on diesel for Scott’s truck. They had run out of fuel at the gas station up at Toco, so we had to start our trip by going in the opposite direction—half an hour down to Valencia and then back again.

We were excited to go and meet the team that found Margaret and to see Margaret’s beach. “The turtles love Grande Rivière!” one of the beach monitoring team called out to me. Indeed. Sometimes there are a hundred leatherbacks at a time. A hundred at a time.

The beach is only about a kilometre long. This means the density of animals is incredible—turtles nesting on top of each other’s nests, digging up each other’s eggs—turtles trying to climb over each other—turtles everywhere. There are resorts and homes that are close to the beach at Grande Rivière, too. I watched one leatherback crawl under a child’s swing and into someone’s backyard to nest!

But the most incredible thing we saw was this:

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Look carefully just to the right of the turtle’s flipper. You can see the bottom of the sword. Then follow straight up to see where the shaft comes out. There are barnacles clinging to the top, which can make it hard to find in the photograph at first.

 

It is a leatherback nesting with the sword from a billfish slammed straight through its body.

It would have been something to see—the fish—likely a swordfish or marlin—slashing its sword through the water to stun the smaller prey fish around it, then somehow, mistakenly, driving that sword (with clearly incredible force) through the leatherback. And then the fish becoming stuck in the turtle. So stuck that its sword broke off.

Wow.

And the leatherback turtle survived. (The fish likely did not.) Not only did she survive, but here she was, nesting.

“We’re going to take that right out,” said Scott cheerfully, as Devan, Mike and I stood, shocked, by the turtle. “I’ve seen this once before.” Scott promptly dug his Leatherman tool from his backpack, clamped onto the sword, and heaved upward. The sword came out. There was almost no blood—just a nasty smell. The leatherback’s body had encased the sword in a kind of sleeve. Sealed it off. We could look deep into the tunnel it left behind.

“That should close right up,” said Scott. “I’m going to bleach this. We’ll send it out to some billfish folks and figure out what kind of sword it is.”

This is Scott holding the sword just after he's taken it out.

This is Scott holding the sword just after he’s taken it out.

The sword rattled around in the back of the truck on the way home. (It was way too stinky to have in the cab with us. As we made the sharp turns back down the road, it nudged up along Devan’s backpack in the truck bed. He had to wash his bag three times to get the smell out.)

This is a photograph of Nivon, one of the Nature Seekers, sitting out front at Suzan’s Guest House back in Matura. Scott had the sword soaking in a bleach solution all day. Nivon held the cleaned sword and turned it over and over in his hands while Scott told him the story. “These leatherbacks are amazing creatures,” he said—first in wonder—and then in triumph. “Amazing creatures!”

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