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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

Black Jack! — 7 June 2001

It’s hard to even describe a day with so much activity and diversity.  In the end, though, we hit Blackjack! — 21, that is.

This morning conditions improved in Blackfish Creek.  Winds subsided and water cleared.  So, terrapins passing through the tide drained rapids became quite visible.  We netted a baker’s dozen.  Nine females, four males.  Four were recaptures; nine were observed for the first time.  Lots of juveniles with nine turtles 6 years old or younger.

After an orientation session on Great Island, action moved to a very different venue from the marsh creeks.  We loaded a canoe and drove to high tide flooded Chipman’s Cove, a large protected basin abutting Wellfleet’s town pier and harbor.  Here the technique involves a daring gymnast standing at the bow of the canoe with a dip net on a ten foot pole, spotting turtles hiding among thickets of dense vegetation amid gushy mud flats.  The other member of the pair powers the boat in zigs and zags to mirror the escape route of fleeing terrapins.  One false step and canoe and canoeists disappear into the soft underbelly of the Land of Ooze.


Well, not only did all survive, but we managed to net another eight turtles.  Seven females and one male.  One recapture and seven first timers.  Only two were juveniles and all the rest adults — excluding the canoeists, of course.

The one recapture was particularly rewarding.  First seen three years ago on 12 June 1998, Terrapin 726 was a 5-year-old who measured 12.4 centimeters and weighed 310 grams.  Researchers at the time identified #726 as male.  Even though these measurements fell within the parameters of a male, my experimental model for distinguishing gender for individuals, which do not yet show secondary sex characteristics, spotlighted this identification as incorrect.  The model predicted female. I noted this prediction in an amended database entry.  Today Terrapin 726 was netted again: a beautiful, sexually mature, 17-centimeter, 800-gram FEMALE.  SHE is pictured below shortly after release.

All things considered, a very good day at the end of the terrapin universe.