Archive for January, 2009

Turtle Journal Team Speaks at Wareham Free Library on Valentine’s Day 2009

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse in the Field

At the request of the Wareham Land Trust, Don Lewis and Sue Wieber Nourse will offer a multimedia presentation on turtles of the South Coast and Cape Cod on February 14th, 2009 at the Wareham Free Library.  Through the magic of virtual media, they will transform the library into a summer field site, so that kids from four to one hundred four can experience first-hand the transformational moments of turtle exploration and discovery.  As folks enter the library, they will cast off the chills of one of the coldest winters in active memory.

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Ice Bound Wellfleet Bay

How cold is it, Johnny?  Well, take a look above at Wellfleet Bay, one of the principal sites we will visit in our presentation, which was locked in imbricated ice floes when we visited just yesterday.  If you detect a shake in the camera, you’re right.  My bare hands were less than steady as icy winds whistled across the icebergs.


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Male Eastern Box Turtle on Lazy Summer Stroll

But we’ll put aside the ice and the cold, and huddle close to the screen to capture the reflected warmth of summer adventures.  We’ll watch as turtles wake from winter slumber and bask in bright sunshine to gain enough energy to resume activity.  We’ll sneak a peek as adults wander into the singles bar, known less affectionately, but more scientifically as a mating aggregation.  We’ll hide nearby to observe females trek across obstacles to reach their natal nesting sites and to deposit a clutch of eggs representing the next potential generation of turtles.  Later, we’ll watch as hatchlings emerge to take their first breath of air as they scramble to the relative safety of nursery habitat.

Endangered Red-Bellied Cooter Hatchling

 Whether an endangered red-bellied cooter,

Diamondback Terrapin and Eastern Box Turtle Hatchlings

… or a threatened diamondback terrapin or even an Eastern box turtle, listed as a species of special concern, we’ll learn secrets about what makes these shelled critters such wild and wonderful bellwether species of our natural world.  As their populations tumble, so goes the quality of the world around us.  As they prosper, we see positive advances in the quality of our lives, too.


900-Pound Leatherback Entangled in Lobster Buoy

We’ll also come face to face (virtually) with five species of threatened and endangered sea turtles that inhabit our bays and coastline.  We’ll rescue a 900-pound entangled leatherback sea turtle trapped in lobster buoy lines in deep summer.  We’ll patrol storm tossed beaches of Cape Cod Bay in the fall to rescue the most endangered sea turtle in the world, the Kemp’s ridley, as well as loggerheads and green sea turtles (see Loggerhead Days of December).

Wareham Land Trust Poster

Finally and hopefully if the weather gods cooperate, we will have a couple of surprise guests on hand to personally greet each and every member of the audience, and to reveal in their own reptilian way what it’s like to be a tiny turtle struggling to survive in an overly caffeinated, adrenalized and asphalted world.  In other words, turtle talk straight from the reptilian soul.  A member of the Turtle Journal team will be on hand to translate with appropriate, or should I say inappropriate, turtle words expurgated.

Woods Hole Science Community

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Blue Lobster (Homarus americanus)

Once in a blue moon, or a blue lobster if you’d prefer, geography and talent and circumstance come together to create a unique community that enriches civilization for the whole world.  Athenian philosphers, the library of Alexandria, Renaissance Italy, and England’s Oxbridge complex are all examples of intellectual communities whose brilliance illuminated the globe.  When it comes to marine research, oceanography and biological sciences, nowhere on the planet compares to Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Snagging coffee and a pastry at Pie in the Sky Bakery and Cafe, you’re likely to be sharing the table and the morning paper with the next Nobel prize winner in medicine or chemistry.  At Wood Hole’s Marine Biological Laboratory, more than fifty Nobel laureates have studied, researched or taught.

Famous Quote Posted in the MBL Aquatic Resources Lab

Barring an unexpected rescue or marine stranding, Turtle Journal will focus its next few posts on the Woods Hole science community, introducing the wonderful resources that are offered to scientists, researchers, teachers and students to enhance marine discovery, as well as the exceptional opportunities that are available to families to explore the ocean world with hands-on fun and excitement.  We have never seen an unhappy face inside the Woods Hole Science Aquarium.


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Water Street Woods Hole

Entering the town of Woods Hole, you pass National Public Radio’s Cape and the Islands station (WCAI/WNAN) on the right and the ferry terminal on the left with departures to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  Down the main drag aptly named Water Street, you go by the Redfield Building of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with an auditorium used for scientific conferences and public concerts before crossing the drawbridge over Eel Pond, a legendary specimen collection site during the 19th century and a protected inner harbor today for smaller boats.  On the other side of the bridge, WHOI and Marine Biological Laboratory research buildings line both sides of Water Street.  Behind the buildings to the left, you can spot WHOI ocean research vessels like Knorr and Oceanus and Atlantis, perhaps with the famous submersible ALVIN aboard. 

Beyond the WHOI vessels on the left, you see the NOAA building that houses the Northeast Fisheries Science Center with NOAA research ships tied to its docks.  After a sharp right turn, you see the Woods Hole Science Aquarium of the NMFS, arguably one of the finest small aquariums with an admission fee of absolutely free.  Turtle Journal has traveled the globe and has never found a better aquarium for introducing marine science students to the ocean world.  Of course, we also salute the Woods Hole Science Aquarium because they have rehabilitated cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and have over-wintered threatened diamondback terrapin hatchlings for us, too.


Sometimes we get carried away by the world class science that happens each and every day in Woods Hole.  We forget the unbridled, child-like excitement we experience every time we visit.  Behind the scenes at Woods Hole, groundbreaking science is routine, but out front in exhibit centers and hands-on displays, this leading edge research is rendered to the public in easily accessible forms.  Ofttimes when we have toured Woods Hole with high school students, Sue runs into a colleague or acquaintance who happens to be a Nobel laureate and who invites the kids inside for an informal chat about science and research and life.  The real excitement comes on the road home, when one student quips to another, “You know, I think I could do that.”  Woods Hole has a way of demystifying “science” and making it seem accessible to everyone.

All of which brings us to one of our favorite places in Woods Hole and certainly to Don’s favorite creature, the Atlantic Wolffish, who clearly demonstrates how science and fun are the same word just spelled a little differently.

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Atlantic Wolffish Sings Blues at Woods Hole Science Aquarium

Click back to Turtle Journal soon for the next episode of our Woods Hole discovery. 

Mid Winter Freeze Grips Outer Cape

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Giant Ice Floes Smother Wellfleet Shoreline

Mid winter grips Outer Cape estuaries in smothering ice floes, blocking marine commerce and whistling year-around shellfish harvesting to an abrupt, if temporary, halt.  Winter transforms naturally beautiful Wellfleet from vacation paradise to raw, hardscrabble community.  Bustling, swimsuit clad crowds of tens of thousands dwindle down to a spare, gristled cadre of tens of hundreds of year ’rounders; folks as tough as the ice that surrounds them and as uniquely eccentric as each individual floe.  At Burton Baker Beach off Indian Neck, where Turtle Journal documented the first torpedo ray in Shocking Discovery! Torpedo Ray in Wellfleet Bay in early November, floes have buried the shoreline and covered jetties like vanilla icing on Twinkies.

Wellfleet’s Uncle Tim’s Bridge over Frozen Duck Creek

The newly renovated Uncle Tim’s Bridge braces for its first structural challenge as tons of compacted ice ebb and flow with tides, massing against pilings driven into Duck Creek’s oozy bottom.  The First Congregational Church towers on the horizon, ringing only ship time, one to eight bells in four hour sequences throughout the day to commemorate Wellfleet’s seafaring tradition.  (ASIDE:  As bells toll across the harbor each summer, it’s amusing to watch visitors compare wristwatches to six bells at 3 pm, wondering whether they’ve missed the blue plate special.)

Shellfishermen Chip Ice for Oysters in Frozen Chipman’s Cove

Nearby Chipman’s Cove, where terrapin mating aggregations will kick off the 2009 research season in early May, has been sealed in ice about five inches thick.  Two very hardy residents slide along the ice and crack holes with picks in futile search for entombed shellfish.

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Ducks and Shorebirds Forage in Tide Exposed Shallows

A tiny section of the east shoreline of Chipman’s Cove is exposed by tidal forces, giving ducks and shorebirds a chance to forage for “fast food” in the brief, low tide interval before a new onslaught of ice returns.  By high tide, birds hunker along the lee shore to wait out the freeze.

Frozen Inner Harbor Invites “Boat Owners and Crew Only”

Floating docks, under which harbor seals played and foraged a few months earlier (see Wellfleet Harbor Seals: “Thanks for All the Fish!”), have been removed for winter protection, but signs still beckon “boat owners and crew only” to board invisible boats locked in too visible and too real ice.  Wellfleet, like its resident population of diamondback terrapins, has gone into winter brumation.

Gobbler Gang Invades Tony Sailing Hamlet

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Toms Roam Wild Through Tony Marion Village

Gobblers, decked in drab brown gang colors offset by bright red neck & leg wear, roam wildly through Marion Village, heart of the SouthCoast sailing aristocracy.  Strutting down this harbor town’s main drag, hopping privacy barriers and disrespecting centuries old stone fences, they peck through manicured Tabor Academy, despoil the lawn of President Cleveland’s vacation home, heckle the gentry at the Beverly Yacht Club and ruffle feathers at the Sippican Tennis and Croquet Society.  Tensions mount near Burr Brothers Marina when rafter and gaggle cross paths.  Clucking American turkeys face off, claw to claw and beak to beak, with honking Canada geese.  West Side Story redux.  Oh, the horror of these nationalist gangs!

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Rafter of Wild Turkeys Ride Roughshod Over Marion Gentry

You may think that herding cats is tough, but it takes a powerful tom to lead a gang of wild turkeys.  This one drove his rafter through the Marion Art Center and into the church triangle on hallowed Front Street where cameras cornered the gang scratching for booty in total disregard of frightened Marionettes barricaded behind frozen doors.

Marion Turkey

Gobblers running amok in the tony town of Marion?  True, there have been reliable records of two-legged turkeys haunting the streets, boardrooms and even bedrooms of Sippican for decades.  But a gang of gaudy toms?  Mon dieu; say it isn’t so!  At the very least, they should respect the town’s preppy dress code.

Two-Headed Diamondback Terrapin Update

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

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Two-Headed Diamondback Terrapin

The two-headed diamondback terrapin hatchling(s) discovered last August in Eastham on the Outer Cape (see Two-Headed Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling) is/are doing just fine in their winter quarters.  Luckily, they have been absolved of trying to survive this brutal winter burrowed under mounds of solid ice and crunchy mud.  During our visit to the Outer Cape on Tuesday to retrieve the juvenile Kemp’s ridley found in South Wellfleet (see Tropical Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle on Ice), we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit these plucky critters to check on their progress.