Archive for December, 2000

Harp Seal Watch — 17 December 2000

Sunday, December 17th, 2000


Juvenile Harp Seal in Fox Island WMA Marsh

With yesterday evening’s high tide, I returned to the harp seal stranded in the Fox Island marsh.  The tide had reached the mud bank were the seal was spotted Saturday morning.  I waded out to her locale to see if she had escaped with the tide and couldn’t see her until I was within about ten feet.  She hadn’t moved, but remained in the same area, floating head down and under water with only the bump of her back exposed.  I was concerned that she might be immobilized by something or other, so I began to approach cautiously.

Well, life is a challenge.  At maximum high tide she was floating in about 20 inches of water.  I know that because the low wading boots I had foolishly chosen for this trek were 18 inches high.  Yep, that’s right — two inches below water level.  When I slogged to a spot right over her, she snapped to life, poked her head up, and began to plow through the flooded high marsh grass toward deeper water.  I walked with her until the icy tide reached my thighs, at which point I decided the better part of valor was to retreat while I could still feel my toes.  She didn’t make it all the way to the navigable creek, but she did maneuver to within a few feet of a nice channel. At the request of the Mammal Stranding Network, I returned Sunday morning to check the area at low tide to see if she had moved out.  Unfortunately, this young harp seal remains grounded in the same location as last night.

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With head resting in a clump of high grass, she took little notice my approach, just following my movement with her eyes but not lifting her head.  Her right eye, which I thought might have been injured, seemed responsive today, although darker and seemingly larger than the left eye.

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As I got closer, she panted in shallow breaths, something akin to weak, barely audible barks.


She did lift her head slightly as I circled behind her and walked away.  The spot where she lies now is within a foot or two of a creek channel which floods regularly with normal high tides.  So, if she desires, there should be no trouble escaping from this section of the marsh when she’s ready to leave.  I’ll check on her again tomorrow morning.

Young Seal Discovered off Fox Island — 16 December 2000

Saturday, December 16th, 2000


Young Harp Seal in Fox Island WMA Marsh

About a 1/4 mile south of Fox Island in the marsh off Anawan Road on Indian Neck, I found a young seal high and dry on a mud bank quite a distance from any open swimming channel back to the bay.  She may have floated in with the astronomically significant tides these last few days.

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She appeared responsive and tracked my movements with her left eye.

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But the right eye socket seemed enlarged and the eyeball was black as ebony.  It did not appear normal.


She did look plump and well nourished — at least to a turtleman’s eye.  I’ll re-check her at high tide today and again tomorrow morning.

Barnacle Bill — 7 December 2000

Thursday, December 7th, 2000

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Bob Prescott Retrieves Loggerhead Sea Turtle from Frigid Surf

Night patrol hit the beaches of Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro about 8 p.m., a little after high tide.  Temperature hovered around 30 with a snappy west-northwest breeze.  Bob Prescott, the Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary director, spotted “a rock where there shouldn’t have been one” off the Eastham beach near Cole Road.  He plunged into the frigid surf and retrieved Barnacle Bill, a nearly 68-pound loggerhead being tossed ashore in the rising tide.


Barnacle Removed from Loggerhead Sea Turtle

As the name implies, his carapace was encrusted from head to tail with barnacles, some of which wrapped around and under his top shell.  Whole communities of critters had taken residence on this nearly two-foot square mobile reef.  With a sharp knife, barnacles were removed.


Bob Prescotts Measures Loggerhead Sea Turtle

His carapace was cleaned and sterilized, and his flippers were jellied to prevent dehydration, giving Bill that moist and glossy look so sought after in loggerhead pinups.

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Loggerhead Active Despite 33.7º F Internal Body Temp

Despite an internal body temperature of only 33.7°F, Bill seems remarkably active and responsive.  He’s resting the night in a dark 50-degree recovery room, waiting for tomorrow’s trip to the New England Aquarium and the beginning of his voyage back home to the tropics.

The Smallest Loggerhead — 6 December 2000

Wednesday, December 6th, 2000

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Slush Forms along Eastham Shoreline

It was just plain freezing this morning.  Sub-zero wind chills.  Blustery west-northwest gusts at 20+ knots.  Slushy ice forming along the shore.  Brrrr!  Not a particularly hospitable venue for tropical sea turtles.


Tiny 33.3 cm Loggerhead Sea Turtle Rescued

Nevertheless, the tiniest loggerhead sea turtle seen in these parts for several seasons was rescued by a Massachusetts Audubon volunteer from Bound Brook beach in north Wellfleet.  At 33.3 centimeters long, she’s smaller than some of the ridleys.  Her 13-pound mass had been chilled to 35.2°F by bay conditions.  Still, she was responsive and active and breathing fairly well.


30-Pound Loggerhead Rescued at Boat Meadow in Eastham

Another, more normal size loggerhead was discovered by a volunteer at Boat Meadow beach in Eastham.  This turtle measured 44.1 centimeters and weighed nearly 30 pounds, yet her internal body temperature had dropped to a mere 32.3 degrees.  Both loggerheads are being prepared for transport to the New England Aquarium in Boston.  Two dead ridleys were found in Dennis and Brewster.  Totals now stand at 36 cold-stunned sea turtles, four of which were loggerheads and the rest were Kemp’s ridleys.

Shark Attack! — 3 December 2000

Sunday, December 3rd, 2000

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December Brewster Beach at Sunset

Sunset and high tide converged last night in an explosion of symphonic colors as we patrolled Brewster beaches in search of cold-stunned sea turtles.

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63-Pound Juvenile Loggerhead Victim of Shark Attack

At Saints Landing the largest turtle of the season to date came ashore: a loggerhead weighing 63 pounds and measuring nearly 55 centimeters carapace length.  This critter — with a missing right rear flipper and a 26-centimeter bite ripped out of its right rear quadrant — had been the victim of a shark attack.

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Large Shark Tooth Clearly Visible in Notched Shell

Close inspection of the wound clearly shows the outline of the shark’s tooth notched in the shell.  From the extent of healing and parasites, such as mussels growing in the wound, we can deduce that the turtle survived the shark strike that occurred at least some time in the past.  Unfortunately, exacerbated by cold-stunning, which dropped its internal body temperature to 39.4°F, this loggerhead did not live through the night.

Three dead Kemp’s ridley sea turtles came ashore this morning on Brewster beaches.  They all measured around 31 centimeters carapace length and weighed a little over 4 kilograms.  Totals as of this morning are 30 ridleys and two loggerheads for the fall stranding season.