Monday, September 22, 2008

Turtle Magnets

When working on the beach in one place for more than a couple minutes turtles swarm from everywhere. It is like we are turtle magnets.
For example, last night we stopped at a female who was laying eggs. Brett stuck his hand in under her and collected the eggs to be weighed and measured. Once all the eggs were taken up and lined up to count, the mother began to hind flipper fill to cover where she laid. At this stage we needed to move her so we could safely return the eggs to the egg chamber she dug. It was a struggle (at least for me) to try and lift her; but together we were able to move the over 200 lb female away from her nest. Then the turtle attraction began…as we were counting the eggs she laid, hatchlings appeared. We looked around to find them emerging under the mother who we had just moved. I jumped up to save them from being crushed by the female’s large determined flippers. I saved them and tried to continue with our collection of data. Brett cleaned off and measured the maximum and minimum width of the eggs while I weighed them. Which sounds easy but when I was trying to weigh an egg on the scale (which is annoyingly wind sensitive), the 50-60 hatchlings wanted to climb all over the scale too. Then the mother decided that instead of returning to the water she wanted to come towards where we were working. First she tried to run over her nest which was uncovered since we were taking measurements of her eggs…Brett saved them by throwing sand over just in time and turning her towards the water. Phew, she was heading to the water and we could get back to work. Then, again, she came crawling towards us…what the heck! We tried to turn off our lights thinking that was distracting her, since the moon was not out yet to lead her back to the shiny water. This did not work and she was determined. After running over our gear Brett was able to move her and she seemed to be headed the other way. So back to work we went…then all of a sudden she was nudging into my back. Come on, we are trying to work here Mrs. Turtle, can’t you see that? In addition to her, two other adult females were headed in our direction…thankfully they turned before coming too close. We finally finished weighing and measuring the eggs somehow and returned them to the nest and completely covered them to insure their safety. Next we had to weigh and measure the hatchlings. It was far too frustrating having turtles everywhere while trying to collect the data. We couldn’t stop them from being attracted to us. It was like they wanted us to tag, weigh, and/or measure them. So we picked up 10 hatchlings put them in my bag and moved down the beach. In order to hide from those turtles who were drawn to us, we turned our spot lights off for a few minutes. When we thought we had lost them we turned on our lights and finished the measurements of the hatchlings. I love having so many turtles around but it was a challenge to do research when we were like magnets pulling in all that were in that area.

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