Posts Tagged ‘leatherback sea turtles’

Getting the Story & Putting You in the Picture

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

The Turtle Journal team gets close to the action to bring you inside the critical natural moment with vivid imagery and compelling video clips. 

Sue Wieber Nourse Snaps Close-Up of Emerging Hatchling

The Sony DSC-F828 serves as our workhorse research camera with a high quality Carl Zeiss lens and a manual zoom ranging from macro to ~ 135 mm telephoto.  We have two F828s, one that shows all the signs of several years of salt water and sand dunes, and a second one with only a single research season under its belt.  The F828 produces excellent digital stills, but also provides the capability to switch quickly to medium quality video to document important research events.

Terrapin Hatchling Pips through Its Eggshell

If the F828 is our workhorse, the Pentax Optio W30 with its built-in underwater capability is our pocket miracle maker.  The underwater housing serves double duty.  Surprisingly, not every field day is sunshine and light.  More days than we wish to remember are filled instead with rain, wind and storms.  For instance, the leatherback necropsy last Sunday was done outdoors (obviously) in a driving rain storm.  The only camera present that could document the post mortem was the Optio W30.  

Don Lewis Zooms In on Emerging Duo for a Close-Up

Having lost three previous digital cameras to salt water, the Optio W30 is perfect to document all action near, above and below the water line.  Its compact shape and light mass allow the camera to slip comfortably into field pockets and even bathing suit pockets.  This camera takes excellent macro video clips in QuickTime format and good quality stills when the F828 isn’t around.

Close-Up of the Emerging Duo

The one drawback with the Optio W30 is the LCD screen.  The camera fell from my swimming suit pocket about 12 inches onto sandy soil during our June field school.  The fall appears to have jarred the LCD screen which has dropped to about 10% functionality.  In essence, the camera now is a point and guess.  Still, the Optio W30 brings home some sweet imagery … when pointed in the right direction and in the right mode of operation.

The most important instrument for capturing the right shot at the right moment has nothing to do with digital anything.  If you can’t get yourself to the perfect spot at the perfect time, your top quality camera will capture a whole lot of sea gulls, sand dunes and fiddler crabs.

Sad Tale of Three Dead Leatherback Sea Turtles

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Leviathans of the sea and giants of the reptile family, leatherback sea turtles define the term superlative.  Ranging in weight up to a ton and the size of a small Volkswagen, no one who has encountered one of these living relics in the wild comes away from the experience unchanged.  They are simply magnificent beasts that peacefully ply the world’s oceans in search of slurpy jellyfish.  The open mouth of a leatherback sea turtle (see below) is perfectly configured for this quest and is the last thing that a jellyfish senses before the lights go out.

Mouth of 650+ Pound Male Leatherback Sea Turtle

Unfortunately, we humans offer them a complex series of lethal obstacles to avoid during their peaceful voyages.  Gill nets drown them, longlines hook them, propellers slice them, weirs trap them and lobster buoys entangle them.  Especially during the summer months in Cape Cod and Buzzards Bays as they chase plentiful jellyfish, endangered leatherbacks face a host of potential threats.

Male Leatherback Arrives at Wellfleet Sanctuary for Necropsy

A freshly dead 650+ pound male leatherback beached in Provincetown on Sunday and Mass Audubon’s Bob Prescott, the state sea turtle stranding coordinator, conducted a necropsy at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to determine the cause of death and to gather scientific information to help us conserve this endangered species.  In addition to his staff, Bob (with large caliper below) was assisted by Kara Dodge, a PhD candidate at UNH and former NOAA sea turtle coordinator, and the Turtle Journal team.

Bob Prescott (Calipers), Don Lewis (Camera) and Kara Dodge (Scalpel)

Too large for normal scales, the mass of leatherbacks is determined by weighing the Mass Audubon pickup truck at the dump with the turtle inside, and then re-weighing the truck without the turtle.  The post revealed that this animal had been very healthy.  “It had everything going for it,” stated Bob and Kara.  Both flippers showed signs of a recent entanglement, but nothing so severe that these wounds would have caused death.  Instead, the cause of death was determined to be drowning.  The likely scenario for the death of such an inherently healthy animal is that it got entangled in a buoy line with both flippers wrapped in the rope and perhaps its body trunk as well.  With the last series of spring tides, the turtle may not have had sufficient line to reach the surface.  Like all turtles, leatherbacks are air breathers and will drown if held under water for a sustained period.  How this drowned animal had then become disentangled from the lines that had been wrapped tightly around its flippers is merely a matter of conjecture.

This evening we received a call from Bob Prescott that there had been a report of a dead leatherback on a Westport beach near Horseneck.  We drove out to the site and after about 30 minutes of searching, we discovered a badly decomposed and deflated leatherback sea turtle.  Talking to a local resident, we learned it had been bouncing along the beach for at least the last three days.  We estimated the carapace at approximately 161.3 centimeters, but decomposition and deflation may have altered any accurate rendering of its precise size.  Bones were exposed throughout from head to back to flippers.

Decomposed Leatherback Sea Turtle in Wesport, MA

Another decomposed, 600 pound leatherback washed ashore at Pico Beach in Mattapoisett Saturday night (  Dealing with one dead leatherback is serious as population numbers of this critically endangered species continue to plummet.  Finding two dead leatherback carcasses in a weekend is a tragedy; but three dead leatherbacks fall beyond emotions and words.  Yet, a ray of turtle hope winked through the afternoon when a call came into the Hotline.  A woman found a small 1/2 dollar size turtle in Plymouth, Massachusetts as kids were placing it in the ocean and the animal was being forced back to the shore by wave action and its own volition.  She thought she had discovered a baby sea turtle, or perhaps a diamondback terrapin hatchling.  A few questions cleared up the mystery.  Color?  Dark, almost black.  Long tail?  Yes, very long.  Bump along the tail?  Yes, like an ancient dinosaur.  Jagged edge along rear of carapace (top shell)?  Yep.  Does it have a yellow “button” in the middle of its tummy?  Yes.  Congratulations!  You are the proud holder of a snapping turtle hatchling.  With just a few more questions we discovered the local fresh water source from whence the hatchling probably came, either through its own design or more likely with the help of local kids.

Snapping Turtle Hatchling

You’re right.  Snapping turtles aren’t endangered and they’re not leatherbacks.  But that doesn’t diminish the joy in helping a hatchling find hospitable habitat where it might have a fighting chance of survival.  Saving one turtle … even a snapper … isn’t a bad way to close the day.