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

Preakness Preview — 16 May 2002

Blustery 25-knot gusts from the southwest continued their windy onslaught on the Land of Ooze.  The overnight blow, which snapped branches and limbs and painted Cape Cod Bay in swirls of white and green, churned Blackfish Creek so thoroughly that in three inches of water the tips of our boots disappeared in the murk.  It was no surprise that not a single turtle was spotted on the morning tide.

But at noon, we switched venues to Chipman’s Cove, hoping the marginal lee provided by Indian Neck’s northern arm might give just enough protection to paddle kayaks and see terrapins lounging on the dark mucky bottom.  Well, the lee gave very little shelter, but when gusts eased to a steady 15 knots, distorted windows opened on the cove floor.  We managed to net seven turtles in 45 minutes before severe conditions once again closed in.  Whitecaps and swells kicked up in the shallow cove emulating an ocean seascape.

Three females and four males.  Only one turtle, a male (#773), had been previously marked.  The others were all first timers, including a huge, ancient female (#1222) stretching 20.2 centimeters carapace, 18.5 centimeters plastron, and weighing 1577 grams.  Dwarfing the other terrapins (middle left above), she had old scars across her second vertebral and first right costal, which suggest a boat strike several years ago.  We also saw one of Wellfleet’s larger males (#1224) at 13.05 centimeters carapace, 11.05 plastron, and 347 grams.  Another female (#1220, top left above) showed old scarring across her entire plastron and an apparent healed break of her left bridge, suggesting an encounter with an automobile.

On release the turtles gave a preview of Saturday’s Preakness, racing down the beach to be the first one to hit the water. While several of the males broke first from the gate, the mares soon took charge.  Coming into the stretch #1221 held the lead with #1220 on her left and #1222 closing rapidly from mid-pack.  The males were fading.

At the exciting finish, the ancient terrapin, #1222, nosed 11-year-old #1221, with the third female, #1220, falling to show position by half a carapace.  Not a single male finished in the money.