A Turtle Twosome

This week we encountered two more leatherback sea turtles in our surveys!  Our two girls, Veruca and Katrina, both nested within an hour of each other, and only a few hundred meters apart.  While Veruca was on the smaller side, measuring only 146 cm long (about 4.8 feet), Katrina is our biggest leatherback yet this season, with an impressive 161.5 cm (or 5.3 feet) carapace length!  Veruca was first documented nesting on Juno Beach in 2010, and nested again in 2013.  Katrina has been seen multiple times since she was first tagged in 2006, with encounters in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013.  She’s a frequent visitor!

While these girls were busy nesting, we got busy collecting our data.  In addition to the standard workup from last season, this year we are adding ultrasound images to the mix.  While each nesting mother is in the process of dropping her eggs, she holds still enough for us to use a portable ultrasound machine to collect clear images of her stored body fat layer.  The thickest fat layer we’ve found so far was over 3 cm thick.  That’s impressive, considering a leatherback’s favorite food, jellyfish, is 95% water!  Our team of Loggerhead Marinelife Center researchers will use this data to help answer questions like “Does maternal health influence nesting success?” “Does a healthier mother produce healthier hatchlings?” and “How does the health of a nesting leatherback vary over the course of the nesting season?”

Preparing the portable ultrasound for Katrina.

Be sure to check back in with us as we encounter more nesting females in our work to answer these and other sea turtle science questions!

Disclaimer: All marine turtle images taken in Florida were obtained with the approval of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under conditions not harmful to this or other turtles. Images were acquired while conducting authorized research activities pursuant to FWC MTP-17-211.