No Doubt A-boat It

Katabatik came back!  She is our first repeat nester of the season!  If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that Katabatik is one of the leatherbacks Dr. Perrault encountered while conducting research for his Ph.D.  Hopefully we’ll catch this special girl nesting again!  The night was a turtle two-fer, and we encountered another leatherback named Frenchie.  Just over five feet long, Frenchie was first encountered in 2009, and has made several repeat appearances.  Unfortunately, this time she showed up with fresh wounds on her front flippers and carapace.  She has recently been hit unintentionally by a boat.

Frenchie nesting against the scarp.

Leatherbacks spend most of their life foraging at sea where they have few predators.  When they return to coastal waters to reproduce, their life becomes hazardous because of the proximity to their greatest threat: humans.  A female leatherback will lay 5-7 clutches of eggs, on an 8-11 day interval.  That’s almost eighty days dodging boat propellers, fishing lines, trawl nets, and avoiding disorientation due to white lights.  It’s no wonder many of the nesting females we encounter have healed scars.  Frenchie could not get up the scarp due to her injuries, and instead nested at the base, below high tide line.  Our crew had to step in to relocate her nest to a safe place.  Conservation work centered around improving hatching success rate sure makes us feel good, but because of the low survival rate of hatchlings, it is keeping the reproducing females alive that has the greatest conservation value for the species.  Leatherbacks are not candidates for in-house rehabilitation because of their massive size and particular diet, so all we could do was tag Frenchie and sent her back into the waves to heal.  We’ll keep watch for her return to monitor her healing and nesting progress.

Frenchie’s injuries.  Multiple parallel cuts are indicative of a prop strike. Help save sea turtles by practicing sea turtle safe boating: watch for surfacing sea turtles and follow speed limits to avoid hitting them at the surface. *Flash photo taken to document injuries under FWC permit.

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.