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

Night Patrol — 10 December 2001

Northeast winds pumped a steady flow of cold air across the Cape all day on Sunday.  So, with a high tide two hours after darkness, Bob Prescott (Mass Audubonís Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary director) and I decided to scour beaches from Dennis to Brewster.  Elizabeth Hogan volunteered to sweep the eastern edge of the search area from Breakwater to Saint Landing in Brewster.

By the time we reached the shore, air temperatures had plunged into the mid-30s and black ice was forming along unprotected surfaces.  These night patrols may be dangerously exciting adventures for humans, but they are deadly serious business for sea turtles.  Animals tossed ashore in the early evening are exposed to frigid conditions all night long and have almost no chance of survival.  So, a night-time recovery is a clean save.

At Chapin Beach, I walked eastward while Bob drove to the next landing, parked the car, and headed eastward himself.  Thus, we would leap-frog from west to east.  Only a half mile into the first leg, my flashlight pinpointed a Kempís ridley ó the rarest sea turtle in the world ó just below the high tide line.  She responded well to field examination; so, I unbuttoned my outer coat, slipped her inside to shield her from the wind, and continued trekking toward the next landing.

Just as I reached protection of the car, I received a cell call from Elizabeth.  “Got one,” she said, “forty-five minutes into my walk and just as I was about to head back.”  We agreed to rendezvous at Corporation Beach in Dennis for transfer of what turned out to be an exquisite green sea turtle, only the second of the year.

The greenís carapace was dotted with barnacles, but nearly algae free.  In contrast, the ridley was covered in algae and some its rear scutes were exfoliating.  Both were cleaned, barnacles and algae removed, eyes rinsed, and shells and skin lubricated to prevent dehydration ó after which they were placed in “dry-dock” for the night until they can be transported to the New England Aquarium on Monday morning.  For size comparison, the ridley (top) is 10 inches long and weighs 2.1 kilograms; the green (bottom) is 12 inches long and weighs 3 kilograms.

With tonightís rescues, the 2001 cold-stunned tally rests at 46 sea turtles: 42 Kempís ridleys, 2 loggerheads, and 2 greens.