Leapfrogging Sea Turtle Patrol Yields Surprise

Saving the World One Toad at a Time

Winds howled across the bay Saturday into Sunday, blowing first at 30 knots from the south southwest and then 25 knots from the west southwest.  Air and water temperatures still lingered too close to 50 for any real expectation of cold-stunned sea turtle strandings, but with a high tide at 1:30 pm on Sunday, the temptation was too great to resist for a beach patrol.  Something like a road trip … only without the road, and without the trip, too.

Cape Cod Bay: Place a Pin in the Center

To plan where to focus your search, you need to understand that cold-stunned sea turtles are helplessly in stupor, and are tossed about like flotsam and jetsam.  Look at the map above and place a compass or a pin in the center.  Plot the reciprocal direction of the wind and use where it hits the coastline as the mid-point for your search.  So, with winds out of the west southwest, the Turtle Journal team leapfrogged from Bound Brook in north Wellfleet through Ryder Beach in south Truro to Fisher Beach and the Pamet River. 

Leapfrogged?  Yes, leapfrogged.  When patrolling high tide beaches for sea turtles, you’re out in the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) wind conditions and often the worst weather conditions with freezing rain or icy snow pelting the ground and everything and everybody between sky and ground.  The best approach is always to walk with your back to the wind.  Easier said than done?  Not if you leapfrog.  With a single vehicle and two sets of keys, someone is dropped at the first beach and walks with back to the wind.  The second person drives to the next beach, usually about two miles away, leaves the vehicle and begins walking with back to wind to the next beach.  The first person picks up the car and leapfrogs, and the process continues until the end of the patrol.

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Sea Turtle Patrol at High Tide on Ryder Beach, Truro

It was sensational … in the literal meaning of the word.  Screeching winds, crashing waves, rumbling breakers overwhelmed hearing.  Blistering sand and ricocheting spray assaulted unprotected skin.  Sunny warmth battled with chilly gusts.  Brilliant blues, blinding whites competed with darkening clouds and then premature sunset.  It was an afternoon that defied description and won.

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Cold-Stunned American Toad on Bound Brook Dunes

While the beauty of the afternoon exceeded expectation, the lack of sea turtles met expectations.  Still, leapfrogging must have given us an edge to find another cold-stunned critter in the dunes between the parking lot at Bound Brook and the beach.  Movement caught Sue’s eye as she climbed the dune and she spotted an animal in a depression that had been filled with water by the weekend rains, but was now only damp.  She approached and found a toad that was clearly having difficulties in the cold blast.

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Examining Cold-Stunnded American Toad (Bufo americanus)

Although rare, we would have expected to find perhaps a spadefoot toad or a Fowler’s toad in this dune habitat.  Yet, the specimen appeared for all the world to be an American toad (Bufo americanus).  Oh, well.  That will teach us to leapfrog!

American Toad (Bufo americanus) Weighs 246 Grams

We examined the animal in detail on the beach, and perhaps because we had no turtles to bedevil, we recorded weight and measurements.

American Toad on Freezing Cape Cod Beach at Sunset

The sun had fallen low on the horizon when we encountered this toad and temperatures were dropping faster than the Dow Jones Index on Wall Street.  Its behavior was unusual and it wasn’t responding well to the deepening cold.  So, we filled a bucket with sand and brought it to the Turtle Journal lab for a couple of days of rest, recuperation and warmth.  This critter may not be a turtle, but if you don’t have one around, perhaps you can save the world with a toad in a pinch.

One Response to “Leapfrogging Sea Turtle Patrol Yields Surprise”

  1. […] of the season.  Perfect sea turtle stranding conditions on Cape Cod!  As we described previously (Leapfrogging Sea Turtle Patrol Yields Surprise), the wind vector indicated a center point for the stranding search along the northeast-facing […]