Previous Page Photo-Diary of a Terrapin Researcher  Next Page

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

Top Ten — 18 July 2001

A stiff breeze kicked up off the ocean and cooled down the Land of Ooze.  We planned a major assault on Duck Creek and Chipman’s Cove with two kayaks and a canoe to corral terrapins flooding out of the marsh with the afternoon tide.  But easterly gusts blew the creek dry an hour before low, leaving a pasty mud bath where once water flowed.  Turtles had scooted early into deeper channels, and wind and overcast and choppy seas kept them hunkered down along the invisible bottom.  Nevertheless, we had ’em surrounded if only these terrapins had the good sense to appreciate the futility of their situation in the face of such superior strategic maneuvering.  They’d didn’t and neither did we.

Maureen, standing watch in the canoe bow, spotted a huge shadow creeping along the bottom.  Barking commands to Oash on the oars, she pursued the phantom for 40 yards until the water depth dropped just below the length of the dip net extender.  She captured Terrapin 91, a huge and ancient turtle, ranking in Wellfleet’s top ten in both categories.

First seen in July 1989, she had already attained the ancient “shoebox” shape and had maxed out her growth at 20.5 centimeters.  She registered 1400 grams.  Today, with the same linear dimensions, #91 has gained another 160 grams.

In the 11 years she has been under observation, we have only seen Turtle 91 swimming in Chipman’s Cove and have not yet discovered her nesting site even though she’s undoubtedly been nesting twice each year for every one of the 22 seasons our research program has been active.  Count ’em: 44 nesting runs since June 1980 and she’s never been seen.  Turtles such as #91 help keep our research team quite humble.

Continuing along the same scatological track as the last two turtles captured in this rich area of Wellfleet Bay, Terrapin 91 left a large pile of green crab remnants in my lap to add to the growing parts collection.