Archive for November, 2011

Shocking Discovery in Cape Cod’s Loagy Bay: Electric Torpedo Ray

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

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 Male Torpedo Ray @ Loagy Bay Wrack Line

On Saturday, November 19th, the Turtle Journal team led by Rufus discovered a male torpedo ray that had washed ashore on the eastern side of Loagy Bay opposite Lieutenant Island on Outer Cape Cod.  Surprising to most residents, the torpedo ray (Torpedo nobiliana) is a regular sight on Cape Cod bayside shores each Fall as they strand for what still remains unknown reasons.  What makes them especially “stunning” is their 220 volts of electric charge!

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Male Torpedo Ray (Torpedo nobiliana)

In October and November, our team has discovered beached torpedo rays along bayside Cape Cod beaches from Truro to Sandwich.  In November of 2008, we found many torpedo rays that had washed ashore, beginning on Guy Fawkes Day; see and subsequent postings.  The male torpedo ray Rufus sniffed out of the Old Wharf Landing wrack line on Saturday was fully intact without any outward sign of injury.  Our necropsy of other Fall beached specimens have likewise pointed to no obvious cause of death, which has suggested that their stranding may be somehow associated with a cold-stunning phenomenon.  As faithful Turtle Journal readers know, we see these torpedo ray and also ocean sunfish strandings at the leading edge of cold-stunned sea turtle stranding season each Fall.

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Male Torpedo Ray with Claspers

The gender of this specimen can easily be discerned by its claspers pictured above. 

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Large Female Torpedo Ray @ Wellfleet Harbor

For those who may not be familiar with the torpedo ray, a group within which we blissfully counted ourselves until a few years ago, this fish is an electric ray that can deliver a 220-volt charge in a short duration burst.  The torpedo ray is a cartilaginous fish … like sharks and skates. Its shape is a round, flat disk with a relatively short, large caudal fin that has two dorsal fins. While this ray can reach 6 feet long and 200 pounds, most torpedo rays taken from the Atlantic fall in the 75 pound range. (We necropsied a 150-pound female torpedo ray this season.)  It does not have spines or thorns that are characteristic of common skates. Small eyes are set forward and this ray’s color is brownish or purplish on the dorsal (top) surface and white on the ventral (bottom) side.

Examining Large Female Torpedo Ray in 2008

Habitat for the nocturnal torpedo ray is benthic (bottom of the sea) where it buries itself in the sand during the day. While described as pelagic, torpedo rays can be found mostly along the continental shelf in water from 10 to 350 meters deep. They are not common within inshore waters. This fish is the only electric ray that is found in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and historic records document torpedo rays in Vineyard Sound, Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay, especially the Provincetown area.

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Large Female Torpedo Ray from 2008

This specimen was identified as a female with pelvic fins and no claspers.

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 Torpedo Ray Egg Sacs

The eggs sacs above were removed from a large, 150-pound female torpedo ray that stranded in Cape Cod Bay this year.  Note the varying sizes of the individual eggs within the sacs. 

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Internal Organs of Large Female Torpedo Ray

Two egg sacs were discovered in a band located anterior of the two large liver lobes.  Factoid: Torpedo ray females bear live young.

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 Section from Left Electrical Organ of Large Torpedo Ray

The torpedo ray has two kidney-shaped electrical organs that make up 20% of its weight and are located on the pectoral fins. They generate a power equivalent to 220 volts that stuns prey with a burst of electric current. Its prey includes flounder, silver hake fish, small sharks such as dogfish, eels, worms and crustaceans. After stunning its prey, the torpedo ray guides food with its pectoral fins toward its protruding mouth for ingestion.

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Torpedo Ray Mouth

Torpedo rays have no significant commercial value today. Once upon a time when Southeast Massachusetts was the OPEC of its day, providing the energy that lit the entire world, liver oil of torpedo rays was considerd equal to the best sperm whale oil for illumination. Some in those days said that torpedo ray oil cured cramps if rubbed externally and stomach ailments when taken internally. We can attest to the fact that the torpedo ray is one awfully oily fish that we had to wrestle into place to take measurements and capture documentary images. (You’re right it was mucus and not oil, but the allusion wouldn’t have worked if we had said “slimy” rather than “oily.”)

Second Chance at Life — Last 2011 Hatchling

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

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Last 2011 Terrapin Hatchling

November 14th saw the release of the last diamondback terrapin hatchling of 2011.  What is a hatchling doing in the Great White North in mid November?  Good question!  As nests hatch out during the season, Turtle Journal often finds a few seemingly non-viable eggs lying at the bottom of the nest, looking in pretty sad condition.  They’re often sunken in and darkly discolored.  For all intents and purposes, they’re goners.  But we decided a decade ago to give these sorry-looking eggs a second chance; a last chance, really, to survive.  We place them in clean, moist sand and keep them in a warm environment.  Miraculously, we find a couple of hatchlings each year that earn that second chance at life, usually surfacing at the top of their bucket around Veterans Day or Thanksgiving or even Christmas.  Once such survivor emerged over the weekend.

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Rufus Whispers “Bon Chance” to Last Hatchling

On Monday, the 14th, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse and Rufus brought the lucky survivor back to her natal site at Turtle Point on South Wellfleet’s Lieutenant Island.  The weather was gorgeous with sunshine and nearly 70 degree temperature.  Rufus, who celebrated her first birthday this weekend, couldn’t allow the baby turtle to escape into vegetative camouflage without whispering a few woofs of advice and giving her a gentle doggie kiss for good luck. 

Last 2011 Hatchling Scrambles to Freedom

A little hesitant at first to trade the safe, warm conditions of Turtle Journal refuge for the unpredictable wilds of freedom on Outer Cape Cod, the hatchling slowly acclimated to her new surroundings.  Within a few minutes she decided on her course of action and headed slightly upland to the bear berry (hog cranberry) vegetation of the embankment at the edge of Turtle Point.  She will burrow into the soft sand and spend her first winter in the deep slumber of brumation, waiting for the warm sunny days of May.

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Second Chance at Life for Lucky Hatchling

For now this sweetheart has the title of the last diamondback terrapin hatchling of 2011.  Of course, with any luck, we hope to see that record broken by another sorry-looking egg and second chancer that will emerge while the Turtle Journal family is gathered for Thanksgiving or perhaps even Christmas dinner.

Ritz Carlton Naples Reports Successful 2011 Sea Turtle Nesting Season for Southwest Florida

Monday, November 7th, 2011

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SW Florida Loggerhead Hatchlings Scramble to Freedom

(Photo Courtesy of Ranger Randy Sarton)

Turtle Journal proudly salutes our colleagues in Southwest Flordia for their outstanding efforts in protecting sea turtle nests along the Gulf Coast. 

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Ranger Randy Sarton, Ritz Carlton Nature’s Wonders

According to Turtle Journal’s friend and colleague Ranger Randy Sarton, who leads Nature’s Wonders at the Naples Ritz Carlton on Vanderbilt Beach, preliminary data for the 2011 sea turtle nesting season has been compiled. Randy reports that Collier County had a total of 761 nests this season; one more than last year. Lee County, says Ranger Randy, held steady with last year at 89 nests. Sarton summarizes that 2011 marks the second consecutive year with relatively good, or at least improved, numbers. On the beach in front of the Ritz Carlton Hotel itself, Randy said they enjoyed five nests this last summer.

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Ritz Carlton Male Gopher Tortoise

Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse patrolled Vanderbilt Beach in Naples on November 1st and ran into this handsome male gopher tortoise strolling the beach near the Ritz Carlton.  While protecting sea turtles that choose to nest on the Gulf Coast of Florida is a noble venture, threatened gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) spend their entire lives within a few tens of meters of their burrows.  The survival of Florida’s gopher tortoises rests fully and completely in the hands of Floridians.  Whether gopher tortoises survive or fade into extinction is a decision for Florida to make.  They remain Turtle Journal’s favorite reptile species in Florida, and it would be a shame for Florida’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to lose the experience of these fabuluous native megafauna.  Turtles survived the dinosaurs, survived the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs, survived the giant lethal North American mammalian predators and even survived the arrival of humans on our shores, but they can’t seem to dodge the thoughtlessness of human modernity.  Thanks to the great work of Nature’s Wonders, protection of native species remains an important topic of study for youngsters from two to one hundred two.