Scarps Make Sea Turtles Fly

What a strange week it’s been!  Nesting was slow for most of the week.  Dramatic scarps formed early in the week, preventing most sea turtles from nesting.  With a four-foot plus vertical obstruction in their way, even leatherbacks, which very rarely false crawl, were turning back.  Only the most determined mammas could scale the scarp and nest above high tide line.  Our survey crew was frequently amazed watching the loggerheads tackle the scarp, as they were surprisingly successful at the vertical climbs.  Who knew sea turtles had wings?  Hopefully these steep slopes break down quickly and all our sea turtles will once again be able to nest. We did however, encounter two undaunted leatherbacks this week, Nebraska and Eleanor.

Last night we encountered stately Eleanor.  A true lady, Eleanor obliged to let us sample her without movement.  She was either happy to help advance scientific research or, more likely, completely exhausted from pulling her 4.9 foot (150cm) long body up a four-foot scarp.  Eleanor was also first encountered nesting in 2009.  We gave this fancy girl some sparkly new flipper tag jewelry, and sent her back to the sea.  Hopefully the beach will be in better condition when she returns!

Eleanor holding very still while rear flipper covering.

We also encountered Nebraska, one of the largest tagged leatherbacks to known nest on Juno Beach.  Her carapace is 168cm long, which is over five and a half feet.  She seemed unusually narrow for her length, with very long and thin front flippers.  Her body condition likely denotes previous nests this season.  Nebraska was first tagged in 2009, and was encountered again in 2012.  Nebraska stole our crew’s hearts with her vocal nature.  Leatherbacks are often “grunty” when nesting; they will make a guttural snorting sound surprisingly like a pig’s oink.  Nebraska had a sharp inhale to her breathing, as well as a very satisfying level of grunt to her nesting behavior.  We will be waiting impatiently for this favorite’s return.

Nebraska’s raspy breathing (audible on head lift).  Video edited to grayscale for clarity.


In other marine life news, a 13ft hammerhead shark washed up on Juno Beach on Wednesday night.  We contacted FAU shark researchers who immediately came to collect samples for multiple research projects from this shark.  The field necropsy, or animal autopsy, revealed a fishing hook, with leader still attached, imbedded in this massive shark’s stomach lining.  It was a poignant reminder that catch and release fishing still kills.

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.