Stranding Weekend: Night Patrol

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Night  Patrol Examines Wrack Line Discovery

The most awe-inspiring, the most beautiful, the most powerful and the most dangerous aspect of sea turtle rescues is the night patrol, when gentle dunes are transformed by shadow and wind and tide into a dream-like world of surreal shapes and psychedelic colors.  Daytime familiar vanishes; nighttime mystery appears.  As westerly gales toss breakers against the beach, sound itself is altered and dominated by rumbles and crashes and whistles that flood the air.

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 Don Lewis Opens Channeled Whelk Egg Casing

Friday night, participants in Mass Audubon’s Stranding Weekend, which was co-led by the Turtle Journal team, headed to Duck Harbor in northwest Wellfleet for their first sea turtle patrol.  After a candlelight dinner in the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, they learned about cold-stunned sea turtles and various other marine species that strand on bayside beaches in autumn.  Now they were ready for their first field action.

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Shooting Stars Streaks the Night Sky

With a westerly breeze blowing inshore, Don Lewis suggested they patrol from Duck Harbor in Wellfleet to Ryder Beach in Truro, about a 1.5 mile hike.  After a day of on and off rain, the skies had cleared as the group approached the beach.  The moon was in new phase, and as only Carl Sagan could say, billions and billions of stars adorned the night sky with the Milky Way stunningly bright as it stretched from Cassiopeia (the Great “W”) in the north to Sagittarius in the south.  We stared northward above the twinkling lights of Provincetown and we were dazzled as a brilliant shooting star danced across the sky to a chorus of “ohs” and “ahs.”

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1.5 Mile Night Patrol from Wellfleet to Truro

While no cold-stunned sea turtles were discovered, various critters were unmasked beneath the seaweed wrack.  Sue Wieber Nourse found a horseshoe crab molt from a juvenile specimen that offered a perfect lesson plan on this important tidal species which has contributed so much to medical research and scientific discovery, including at least one Nobel prize.  A channeled whelk casing opened another lesson as the group marched northward to the cadence of the pounding surf.

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Another Shooting Star Blazed across the Night Sky

Nearly an hour later, as we gathered at Ryder Beach to review our discoveries, another magnificent shooting star exploded across the night sky as if to punctuate this unique moment we had all experienced on the darkened, windswept beaches of Outer Cape Cod.

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