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

One for the Records — 21 August 2001

The morning scored two Fs and an A+.  The weather gave us (F)og and (F)lat; the turtles earned top marks.  I began the day testing the rip, but another night of monsoon rains destroyed any chance of visibility.  So, donning my vest and straddling the net extender between my knees, I paddled into the deadly calm.  And, on my first pass, I ghosted within net distance of Terrapin 854 and scooped him into the kayak.

Quite an active fellow, #854 is a fully mature male measuring 12.2 centimeters and weighing 279 grams.  He was last observed in the spring of 2000, on 31 May and 8 June, as he ran the shallow rapids at the rip.  He registered the same linear measurements back then, but was 25 grams lighter coming out of brumation.

Now the next two terrapins are a bit embarrassing to discuss.  I prefer to chronicle feats of magical turtling acumen, a fine mixture of adventure and know-how.  Well, these two captures hardly qualify for either end of that spectrum.  Dumb luck comes closest to mind.

In the fog shrouded creek, anything more than 100 feet away disappears into the mists.  So, for the best chance of spotting turtles, I hovered around the deep water off the rip, hoping to see them as they bobbed to the surface for a quick gulp of air after the strenuous trip through the rapids.  At dead low tide, I saw a carapace plopping through the rapids and getting beached in the rising sandbar at the edge of the rip.  I drove my kayak into the bar and strolled over to pick up Terrapin 855, looking more surprised than alarmed by these outrageous developments.

She is a feisty adult female of 18.25 centimeters and 1063 grams.  Number 855 was last seen on 1 June 2000, coming through the same rip.  Since then, she’s added 2 to 3 millimeters all around, but lost nearly 40 grams of weight.

Capturing 854 and 855 this morning in the precise sequence as they were captured in the spring of 2000 seemed quite a coincidence.  It suggests there may be a lot more about terrapin social behavior than this researcher understands.  You may recall similar coincidences earlier in the spring.  On the other hand, given enough time and chances, even I might draw to an inside straight, or a monkey might compose this diary entry, or both.

Ten minutes later, I heard and then spotted a large wake and ripple plowing through the rapids.  At first I thought it must be a horseshoe crab because it was too huge for a terrapin.  Nope, the color and keel said turtle.  So, I beached the kayak again and walked over to rescue one enormous female terrapin which had become mired in the muck by both current and her (over)weight.  Terrapin 794 is one of the Wellfleet record books.

Last seen on 22 June 2000 when she was spotted nesting in a nearby Lieutenant Island dune, she was already a large turtle at 1540 grams.  But this morning she posted the largest weight we’ve observed for nearly a decade: 1700 grams.  She measures over 21 centimeters carapace length.  While those numbers may not seem extraordinary to our colleagues in parts south, I can assure you that in Wellfleet Bay she ranks Numero Uno — at least for now.  (You may recall Terrapin 91 on 18 July; see Top Ten.  She’s diminutive in comparison.)  The girth of her neck and head seem more like a professional fullback than a diamondback terrapin.

As if to answer my unspoken question as to how she (and others) have managed to fatten up so well this season, Terrapin 794 left me a scatological remembrance: another pile of crab parts.  So continuing yesterday’s theme, it seems a very good year, indeed, for turtles.  As for crabs, well, now that may be another story entirely.