Tough Love in Little Pleasant Bay 17 April 2002
The heat wave reached Cape Cod this morning. Nothing like its counterpart on the mainland, of course, but still 77 degree temperatures in mid-April are not the usual occurrence for the Land of Ooze. Water temperatures in the creeks hit the high 60s, awakening any sleepy-head terrapins who had hit the snooze button when the alarm rang on the 14th.
Elizabeth Hogan, a turtle volunteer with Mass Audubons Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, hauled her kayak to the Orleans town landing (X marks the spot) at the River section of Little Pleasant Bay. After studying research maps of the area, she decided to revisit Hensons Cove (outlined in red) where turtles were captured during 1999 the last season any sustained attention was devoted to the Pleasant Bay population on the ocean side of the Outer Cape.
Paddling down river, she reached Henson Cove an hour or so before low tide and drifted with the slight westerly breeze as she watched for snorkeling turtles. She spotted three soon after arriving and as many as a dozen during two forays to the cove.
But the most interesting encounter was discovered on the oozy bottom. She found a male horseshoe crab and a male terrapin locked in a deadly embrace. The horseshoe crab had hooked onto the rear limb of the turtle and was holding him underwater and underneath the crab. The terrapin couldnt get away from the crabs grip. We have no idea whether this scene reflected some sinister intent between the two animals, or whether it was simply a case of mistaken identity. Male horseshoe crabs have been known to latch onto anything thats round and moves, hoping theyve hit the jackpot and found a living, breathing female companion. My wading boots have been the object of more than few amorous approaches by hopeful male horseshoe crabs. Whatever the motivation, Elizabeths quick intervention prevented a potential tragedy for a terrapin needs to breath even when being seduced by an unwelcomed suitor. And he was incurring a substantial oxygen debt while battling for his life.
With Elizabeths help, both survived the event. The horseshoe crab slipped back into the ooze, and the terrapin was ferried back to Hensons Cove after measuring and weighing and checking todays stats against those of his last appearance.
Terrapin 674 is a recapture from the late 90s. Hes a mature male measuring 12.35 centimeters carapace length and 10.2 plastron. He weighed a healthy 292 grams. It wasnt surprising, but still a little disappointing, for this first capture in Pleasant Bay to be a recapture even after a three year absence. We had noticed during earlier studies that even with relatively few captures in this population, the recapture rate was substantially higher than Wellfleet Harbor, hinting at a much smaller population with little recruitment. Some had speculated that the storm breakthrough of the barrier beach had altered the formerly protected Pleasant Bay habitat in ways that may have adversely affected its existing terrapin population. With Elizabeth Hogan and other interested volunteers and staff, we hope to learn the truth of the Pleasant Bay population in the coming year or two.
In other turtle news, Darth has left the building. This big, handsome snapping turtle departed Connemara Cottage en route to freedom with a brief refueling stop at the Humane Societys Cape Wildlife Center. But you cant lose a turtle without gaining one in return. The CWC folks conveyed to my charge a rehabilitated Eastern box turtle who had been dropped off at the Humane Society without a source location. So, this afternoon, box turtle #101 (Scallop) was released in his new home in conservation land on Lieutenant Island. Over the last couple of years Ive run into a mature female box turtle (Ghost) many times on the island. But Ive never found a male box turtle companion. So, perhaps in a few years well find box turtle hatchlings sledding the dunes with terrapin hatchlings on Lieutenant Island.
And finally, terrapin Hatchling 001-02, who had been dubbed P. Lucky by his rescuer Miss Emily Sperbeck and her mom Susan, returned to freedom. P. Lucky was discovered on 18 January (see Expecting the Unexpected) after a series of storm fronts passed over the Cape, obviously exposing her over-wintering nest. She was thought dead when found and revived once the warmth of Emilys hands permeated his chilled exterior. P. Lucky has been living in a heated tank at Connemara Cottage since his discovery, but today he took advantage of the heat wave to strike out on his own. P. Lucky goes with all our best wishes. Perhaps with his distinctively sculpted carapace we might identify him in a few years when hes swimming in the creeks with his fellow classmates from the 2001 cohort.