Tag Archives: winter

Where to?

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Most turtles are thousands of kilometers south of where we initially satellite tagged them by now. Christie is an excellent example of this. She is the classic post-foraging (feeding) season “Canadian” leatherback.

Asha and Beverly, on the other hand, are a different story. These tracks are anomalous. Asha actually recently briefly popped back into Canadian waters! She’s just about 500 kilometres from where we tagged her at the start of August.

“It’s not behaviour we’ve ever previously observed in leatherbacks that have just finished a foraging season in continental shelf waters off Atlantic Canada,” said Canadian sea turtle expert Dr. Mike James. “What we’ve observed with these two turtles is more akin to what has been observed for turtles departing nesting beaches in the western Atlantic.”

If you click here and also here, you will find the tracks of leatherback turtles that were satellite tagged on nesting beaches in South America and the Caribbean. Some of them travelled through the same area Beverly is in.

“Asha and Beverly are effectively staying at high latitudes, at least for now. But although these are northern waters, they are not cold because they are under the influence of the warm Gulf Stream current,” Mike continued. “The edge of that current represents a dynamic, productive environment where the turtles are clearly finding prey. It’s possible the turtles may even over-winter at high latitudes within the influence of the northern edge of the Gulf Stream; however, at this point, it’s really too early to tell. Either turtle would still have plenty of time to head down to Trinidad or one of the other nesting colonies and nest this season.”

I wish you could hear the precise note in Mike’s voice as he talked—a combination of “Hmm, why doesn’t this fit the pattern?” and the exciting, “Hey! This doesn’t fit the pattern!” crossed with a dose of extreme, infectious curiosity.

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Margaret today

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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.

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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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