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


Balmy Days — 5 December 2001





Sixty degree temperatures in December!  This is no way to run a sea turtle stranding season.  Last year at this time, ice had formed along the shoreline, wind chills had dipped sub-zero, and a 30-pound loggerhead was recovered from Boat Meadow Beach in Eastham with an internal body temperature of 32.3 degrees Fahrenheit.  (See The Smallest Loggerhead 6 December 2000.)

What a difference a year makes.  Walking sun-drenched Boat Meadow Beach this morning, volunteers spotted a Kemp's ridley at nearly the identical spot. It had floated in with the early morning high tide and came to rest in a patch of dense grass.  Unlike last year's turtle, its body temperature registered 58.1 degrees.

Not leaving anything to chance, and suspecting I'd be the one called to recover this poor critter, they created a fool-proof set of signs to guide me to the spot.  “Turn left at the parking lot. Walk along the beach for a few hundred feet until you see an arrow in the sand. Follow the arrow to a debris pyramid next to the turtle.”  And, sure enough, there was the Kemp's ridley, basking in the mid-morning sunshine.

As I approached the turtle, I scanned the horizon and spotted a coyote preparing to ford low-tide drained Boat Meadow Creek to the north.  It caught sight of me, too, and decided the better part of valor was to wait me out.  It blended into the high marsh grass and watched the turtle recovery from afar.  Another dinner lost to humans.

This Kemp's ridley measured just under 10 inches and weighed a little over four pounds.  Several of its marginals had been nicked and its carapace was nearly 100% covered with algae.  Fresh, bright green seaweed was growing on the rear of its shell.  Since it missed the day's transport to the New England Aquarium, we cleansed and lubricated its eyes, and greased its carapace and skin to prevent dehydration as it overnights in “dry dock” at the Sanctuary.

Later this evening a dead ridley was found at the tip of Jeremy Point, buried in sand by tidal forces.  This one marks the 41st sea turtle of the 2001 stranding season: 38 Kemp's ridleys, 2 loggerheads and 1 green.