Wednesday, June 24, 2009

turtle, turtle, gator

It's been a busy couple of weeks - not much time to do anything other than patrol, eat and sleep.

But in that time we've had nine more false crawls and ten more nests! A couple of these recent nesting nights were particularly exciting because we had two females nesting on the same night. Last week we even had two females come out of the water within ten minutes of each other. Jake and I were driving to see the first turtle and on the way found our own. These are by far my favorite moments because the turtle walk went to watch the first turtle nest, so Jake and I were able to do all of our tagging and measurements and then just sit and enjoy. This night was also really special because one of the mommas was Thomasina who was nesting for the second time, two weeks after her first nest. Unfortunately we rarely get shots of the turtle nesting, but here's a photo of Thomasina's first nest.

She laid another huge nest - 175 eggs - and we hope she'll be back in a few more weeks.

Earlier this week Meredith and I had another unique wildlife run in on the beach. Normally, if we see red eye shine while we are patrolling there is a red fox sniffing around somewhere. This time we saw red eye shine and then after driving closer saw a big, long body. Turns out one of the island's gators decided to go for a swim in the ocean and was hanging out there on the beach. One of the wildlife interns told us that scientists believe these odd trips to the ocean help kill fresh water parasites living on their skin. Regardless, we were thrilled and surprised and over the course of the night watched him walk at least 3 miles down the beach. Meredith and I were also nervous, late night beach walkers never expect to run into an alligator, so we stopped everyone we saw in that area to give them a heads up. Granted the two of us don't know a ton about gators (everything I know I can attribute to Dr. Wheeler's Comparative Vertebrae Morphology class), but we guess that this guy was about 6 and a half feet long - pretty big for this island.

In other island favorite UTV has died an epic death twice in the past week. This time around I don't know if Lola is salvageable. Also we have a team of three people here from Oceana to photograph the nesting process, so we've been hanging out with them this week. As much as I enjoy the company of the other interns it is always nice to have visitors and Emily, Carrie Lynn and Jeff have been great to have around.

Things are going well here, the weather has been gorgeous and the time is flying by. Until next time...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

beginning of the season

It seems that our turtle season has finally started. Thank goodness.

Since I wrote last we've had two more false crawls and one more nest - all in the past two nights. The turtlers have a four night on, one day off schedule rotation. So, Sunday night, my last night on, the two other patrollers were lucky enough to see the female on the beach, even though she didn't nest. They had about two minutes with her, which was long enough for them to scan for a PIT tag and record her metal tag code. Turns out this turtle's name is Heidi and she was one of the loggerheads that was satellite tagged in 2006. So, this afternoon I looked her up on to see where all she stopped the year she was tagged. You can check out Heidi's information here:

Then a few hours later Jacob and I were cruising East beach and saw a second set of tracks. We went straight into work mode and shut off the UTV, grabbed our stuff, ducked and ran up before we realized that we actually missed the turtle. Still, it was exciting because based on track measurements we could tell that this was her first time to come up on the beach this season.

All of that would have been enough for us (some nights our highlight is picking up trash...), but while we were doing our last run at 5:30a Jacob and I stopped to look at something at the waterline. We had looked at this "dark spot" all night and decided since it wasn't moving that it wasn't a turtle and never stopped. Turns out the "dark spot" was a flipped horseshoe crab. Neither of us had ever seen a live horseshoe crab, so we took a bunch of pictures before letting the big guy go.

It was huge, it's belly side looked alien and each leg had a claw sort of thing. Definitely one of the craziest looking animals I've ever seen.

And then we flipped him over and watched the beast crawl back in to the ocean.

Last night I was off, but around 2:00a I got a call saying that there was a turtle on the beach right off of beach access 42. She had already been there awhile so I hopped on my bike, rode furiously to the access and then sprinted down the beach to the group watching. Fortunately we didn't have to relocate this nest, but unfortunately that means we won't know how many eggs she laid till they actually hatch. I made it there to see her for about the last ten minutes she was on the beach. She was another beautiful, big turtle and after looking up her information the turtlers found that this one was also a satellite tracked turtle. Her name in Thomasina and she was tagged in 2006. You can check out her migration here:

Heidi and Thomasina laid 4 and 3 nests respectively and both had pretty high egg numbers and relatively successful nest, so I'm looking forward to seeing them both again this season.

I'm back out on the beach tonight and hoping for more exciting news for you soon!

Friday, June 5, 2009


I know it's been awhile, but I'm gonna skip over details of the normal work days to bring you this exciting news:

We finally saw our first turtle! Our full work schedule started this week, so the turtlers have been out in full force (9p to 6a). Unfortunately, our nest count has remained at two since the last weekend and our turtle siting count at zero. Last time I blogged I wrote about our first nest and then later that afternoon we were called about another set of tracks that had been nearly washed out by the incoming tide. So, Sunday afternoon in the heat of the day the whole crew tramped out to relocate the nest. Because we were a bit late in moving them we had to be careful to shade the eggs on the beach as we worked.

As you can see we looked ridiculous. Yes, that is actually all 12 of us under a huge tarp worked to excavate the nest.

Here's a shot from inside. Between the fierce wind the tight quarters it made for quite an adventure. She must have been a hefty momma because she dropped 161 eggs.

Considering we then went four days without anything, even a false crawl, the turtlers have been disheartened. Especially because each morning we hear from the surrounding beaches that have reported two or three nests a night this week. To make matters worse we looked through previous data and it seems that this time last year they already have 14 nests! Anyway, four of us went out to patrol last night at 9 and at 9:12 I got a cell phone call from another intern screaming "we have a turtle! we have a turtle! 25A! 25A!". I thought she was kidding until her patrol partner called with the same enthusiasm. So, Jenn and I raced across the beach, hopped on the road, parked at 25A and went sprinting to the beach. And it was probably the coolest thing ever. Meredith and Jacob spotted this loggerhead as she was crawling out of the water and when I got there she was still digging her nest. It was absolutely phenomenal to watch her scoop out the sand with her cupped hind flippers, gently set it aside and the dip the other flipper in. It seemed like she dug for forever, but finally she started laying and we were able to get to work without disturbing her. We found two metal tags and a PIT tag and took all sorts of measurements. This big girl had a straight (measured with calipers) carapace length of 113 cm and straight carapace length of 79 cm. In other words - her shell alone was about 3.7 feet long. Incredible. She was also an interesting turtle because she had a huge gash across her carapace that was likely caused from a boat accident and she had bites out of both of her rear flippers. Nevertheless, she was gorgeous and it was so amazing to see her nest from start to finish. This momma dropped 182 eggs, which is within BHI top five largest nests, and took a surprisingly long hour and 40 minutes from exiting the water to swimming back home.

Of course this experience would have been mind blowing all on its own, but it was made better because all 11 of the interns, Brett and Maureen were there to watch together, along with three families that had signed up for a turtle walk.

Nine hours patrolling on the beach can be really brutal, especially when you live in a tight space with others with the opposite schedule, but last night we cruised along happily all night long.