First Captured Diamondback Terrapin of 2012 — Lady with a History

Female Diamondback Terrapin #257 from Sippican Harbor

A stiff southwesterly breeze warmed temperatures on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts to the low sixties for a couple of hours around noon today, April 15th.  While Don Lewis took advantage of this fair weather window to get in a long training run, Turtle Journal’s Sue Wieber Nourse more conscientiously checked the draining basin at the head of Sippican Harbor for signs of active diamondback terrapins.  She spotted a few turtle heads snorkeling for air in the murky, choppy water. 

Female Terrapin Snorkeling Buzzards Bay Estuary

Turtles detest cold, clouds and wind; so, not a single terrapin had climbed up on harbor rocks to bask. Winds were too strong; clouds too frequent; apparent temperature too chilly.  Instead, the few terrapins that had already emerged from winter brumation paddled in the gray opaqueness, only visible when they were forced to surface for a moment to gulp a breath of air.  Nevertheless, at least some terrapins were active and it was time for Turtle Journal to kick off the annual research season.

Don Lewis Kayaking for Terrapins

The weather was closing fast and the tide, augmented by a strong southwest breeze, was filling the basin.  For any chance of a capture, Turtle Journal would need to move quickly.  Back from his run, Don loaded the kayak into the Element, collected his trusty long-pole collection net, and launched from Town Landing.

Don Lewis Examines Netted Terrapin #257

Don cruised the shallows of the basin, hoping to detect the muddy wake of a terrapin crusing the bottom.  It was the only reasonable chance for a capture.  He detected an object moving with the tide and wind, cutting diagonally under the kayak and coming out near the stern.  With the long pole net, it would have been impossible to snag the critter at such close quarters.  Instead, Don waited patiently for the turtle to get almost eight feet to starboard, then swept his net in front of the terrapin, letting her momentum glide her into the netting.

Eight Years of Capture History for Female Terrapin #257

She proved to be Terrapin #257, first captured in head of harbor on 7 July 2004 when she was a mere prepubescent lass of 5 years old.  She measured 11.5 centimeters long and weighed only 255 grams.  A year later on 5 July 2005, she had grown to 13.0 centimeters and 368 grams.  By September 2006, #257 had reached 15.4 centimeters and 542 grams, and on August 14th, 2007, she measured 16.7 centimeters long and 710 grams.  Today, Terrapins #257 has stretched to 18.6 centimeters and 1013 grams, now clearly a fully mature female.  The pictures above provide snapshots of her plastron in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2012.

Sue Wieber Nourse Introduces #257 to Rufus

Terrapn #257 has given us great data on the growth of a Sippican female from youth through pubescence to adulthood.  After collecting her morphometric information and checking her long history, we introduced the first terrapin of 2012 to Rufus the Golden Turtle Dog.  Eyeball to eyeball, they decided to respect each other’s space.

Female Terrapin #257 Returns to Sippican Harbor

The weather slammed shut shortly after the capture of #257.  By the time we released her back into the harbor, the sky was fully overcast and temperatures had dipped back into the mid-50s.  Still, for Terrapin #257, it was a welcomed homecoming as she swiftly disappeared into the invisible grayness of Sippican’s opaque waters.

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