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

Life After Celebrity — 03 June 2002

Terrapin 829 became a Land of Ooze celebrity shortly after her first appearance in September 1999.  On a chilly fall morning, she was found swimming through Blackfish Creek.  A mature female of 19.6 centimeters in length and 1394 grams, she proved the perfect model against a bright autumn sky and a perfect blue bay.  Her photo appeared on the cover of Natural New England Issue #2 and numerous other regional and national publications over the last three years.  She became an icon of our research program with her slide leading every presentation on the northernmost diamondback terrapins.

This afternoon I jeeped the kayak over to Chipman’s Cove to look for turtles.  Conditions were doubtful with a strong southwest wind.  Water conditions had deteriorated to murky, either because of sustained gusts and storms the last few days, or perhaps because as temperatures increase, the natural turbidity of summer has begun to set in.  With a little skill and a lot of luck, I still managed to net ten females: three pre-pubescent turtles (one 6-year-old and two 8-year-olds) and the rest mature terrapins.  Nine were seen for the first time.  The tenth was the former cover model, Terrapin 829.

Unfortunately, she had suffered a rather traumatic injury in the intervening years (see photos on the left: 1999 on top, 2002 on the bottom).  The left front quadrant of her carapace had been broken with a large segment caved inward more than a centimeter.  The wound is well healed and there was no apparent injury to soft tissue or her left front limb.  Still, she grew only a millimeter since 1999 and has lost nearly 50 grams.

While it’s impossible to reconstruct precisely what caused the injury, the nature of the damage doesn’t suggest an encounter with a car.  And since she’s now residing in the harbor area of Wellfleet Bay and has been traveling along busy navigation channels to reach this new estuary a couple of nautical miles north of her first sighting, she may have been hit by boat traffic.

We continue to find turtles in Chipman’s Cove who are covered with oyster spat.  Today’s example, Terrapin 1620, is a very large 1529-gram, 20.9-centimeter female with three spats clinging to her rear marginals.  I was unable to pry them loose with my fingers or with the file without risking damage to the shell.

Elizabeth Hogan has continued to search the Pleasant Bay system on the Atlantic side of the Outer Cape, capturing 24 unique individuals this season.  Of that number, 5 were male and 19 were female.  Nine had previously been marked during the 1998–1999 survey of this system and 15 are new observations.  One of the more important discoveries this year has been the percentage of pre-pubescent females nearing maturity (6 out of 24).  We have been quite concerned about Pleasant Bay because so few new turtles were found during the earlier survey.  The presence of these young recruits offers hope for the population if they can find viable nesting sites in this densely developed area.

Today she discovered one of the exquisite pleasures of turtling: finding critters burrowed to the top of their carapace in mud banks many meters above the low-tide drained water line.  Poling a kayak through ooze takes the strength and persistence of a terrapin, but it is a heckuva lot more intelligent than trying to wade through quick-mud.