A First-Time Mom Gets a Helping Hand

We welcomed a new mother to the nesting leatherback population in Juno Beach this week.  She was small for a leatherback, measuring only 140cm long (about 4.5 feet), so we named this sweet, fun-sized girl Hirschy.  We think this was her first time nesting due to her small size, lack of tags, and cumbersome nesting behavior.   Unfortunately, Hirschy became confused on the beach and selected selected a nest site that was below the hide tide line.  The incoming tide was washing over her even as she was covering her nest.  Luckily for Hirschy and her eggs, we were standing by to move her nest to a safer location once she finished laying.

Hirschy covering her nest.  Note the proximity to the water’s edge.

Relocating a sea turtle nest is a delicate procedure; it is only done in a small window of time and only as a last resort.  This is because once a sea turtle embryo begins to develop, the connection between the tiny embryo and the much larger and heavier nutrient-rich yolk is very fragile.  Rotating the egg will cause the yolk to swing to the bottom of the egg, potentially severing the umbilical connection in the process.  If broken, the embryo will not develop.  Additionally, we must be careful to rebury the eggs in a replica egg chamber of the same characteristics as the mother’s original, and in the same order they were laid.  Because sea turtles have temperature dependent sex determination, changing the placement of an egg inside the nest can change the sex of the developing hatchling.

While moving the nest, we counted the new eggs.  Hirschy laid a total of 60 eggs and 37 spacer eggs.  Spacer eggs are much smaller, unfertilized eggs that are sometimes oblong in shape.  Hirschy’s nest had an unusually high number of spacer eggs.  Look for them in the photo below!

Hirschy’s eggs-Leatherback eggs are about the size of a billiard or pool ball, much larger than the other species.

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.