Previous Page Photo-Diary of a Terrapin Researcher Next Page

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

The Beat Goes On — 12 December 2001

In ones and twos this strange sea turtle stranding season chugs along.  Temperatures continue too warm, winds impossibly unpredictable.  They kick up for a few hours from the north, then swing around to the south and die out.  Only weak storm fronts cross from the mainland without enough energy to purge the bay of its lingering population of weakened and cold-stunned turtles, who drift aimlessly in these whimsical weather patterns.

And because every factor is so unusual, nothing is certain.  We can’t be sure of the numbers left in the bay, nor when they might reach shore, nor which beach they’ll hit, nor in what condition they’ll arrive.

A reporter asked recently, “Can you come up with a theory to explain . . . (whatever the anomaly du jour was)?”  The honest answer?  “Sure.  With a single, unique data point it’s a snap to devise any number of hypotheses to fit the fact!”

So, for tonight, let’s stick the facts, “And just the facts, ma’am.”

Four Kemp’s ridleys were blown ashore by northeast winds on Monday.  Three lively turtles were rescued from predictable beaches in Dennis and Barnstable, and one dead turtle was discovered by a park ranger upside down and buried at an unpredictable beach in Wellfleet.  Then the winds died again.  Last night, a northeast blow resumed and another live ridley reached the Barnstable shoreline on Wednesday morning.

Fairly lively, the 51st turtle of the 2001 stranding event was average size for a 2-year-old ridley.  Its plastron tinted pink where blood seems to settle when their systems slow down during cold-stunning.  In addition to substantial algae cover, many recent arrivals have shown scute exfoliation on the carapace, as you can see on its right rear costals.

After the morning tide, winds shifted again to the east and now to the southeast, blowing any near-shore turtles back out into the bay.

Distribution of sea turtles recovered as of 12 December: 47 Kemp’s ridleys, 2 loggerheads and 2 greens.  An “average” season will yield about 17 ridleys, 6 loggerheads, and 1 green.  Most of the loggerheads, because of their bulky body mass, usually arrived late in the stranding event after the largest ridleys have come ashore.