Busy Nights in Peak Season

We have had some busy, busy nights out on Juno Beach!  We’re in the historically peak leatherback nesting period, and once again the turtles are showing up. Our beach is currently hosting nesting leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtles.  It’s quite the treat for us to see three different species of sea turtles at night on our busy beaches!  We started our week with another encounter with three-peat nester, Katrina.  Katrina is an old pro at nesting, and we were happy to get repeat samples from her.  We use repeat samples to track how maternal health changes over the course of nesting effort.  Remember, leatherback females fast over the course of nesting season, relying only on stored body fat to exert all this effort!

Left: Katrina pausing in the surf as she returns to the water.  Right: Katrina front flipper covering to finish nesting.

We had a very busy Friday night, with another two leatherback encounters.  We were so busy working on these two that we missed a third to the south on the beach.  The first leatherback of the night was Ramona, who nested early in the night and at a breakneck pace.  While most leatherback moms take around two hours to complete their nest, Ramona returned to the water in half that time.

Top: Ramona’s nest, with just a quick spin on top before she headed back to the water.   Bottom: The missed nest, with typical meandering crawl returning to the ocean and multiple orientation circles.  Leatherbacks take much longer to disguise their nests than the other species, making verifying the clutch location quite a challenge for the morning technicians.

Annie was our second leatherback encounter that night.  She’s over five feet long, and still looking quite robust for this late in the season.  First tagged in 2006, Annie has an unusually detailed history.  She was caught in a dredge trawl of the Port Canaveral inlet in 2010, four days after LMC’s team encountered her nesting on Juno Beach.  We hadn’t seen her since then, but Annie’s been a part of the dataset of multiple research projects run by LMC and was even PAT tagged neighboring researchers.  How nice of her to make repeat contributions to sea turtle science!

Left: Annie finishing her front flipper covering at the dune line before returning to the water.  Right:  Annie taking a break as she makes her way back to the water.

Over the holiday weekend we found Frenchy nesting again!  If you’ve been following along you may remember that Frenchy was first found nesting with injuries from a recent boat strike a few weeks ago.  We were happy to see that this time she crawled high on the beach to a suitable nest site, so we did not need to relocate her nest.  The superficial cuts from the boat strike are showing marked improvement.  We are forever impressed with the determination sea turtles show when nesting.  This is the second time Frenchy has crawled across the beach, body pitted, front flipper covered, and then crawled back to the ocean with multiple broken bones in her front flipper.  This is one leatherback we hope finishes nesting soon, so she can continue to heal without the repeated trauma to her injuries caused by nesting.


Right: Frenchy’s healing injuries from a boat strike. *White light photo taken under FWC guidelines to document injury.*  Left:  Frenchy front flipper covering in the company of a nesting loggerhead.  Part of what makes Juno Beach so special, and so important to sea turtle conservation, is the simultaneous use of the beach by three species of nesting sea turtles.

Over Memorial Day weekend we found an injured adult male green sea turtle that had stranded in the surf just outside our center.  With the help of some kind (and strong) sea turtle-loving bystanders we brought this massive sea turtle into our hospital.  While our efforts gave him the best chance at survival, unfortunately the injuries he sustained from a boat strike were too severe for him to survive.  This massive male was well over three feet long, and estimates put his age at a minimum of thirty years, and weight approaching 300 pounds.

It was heartbreaking for us to see the boat strike injuries on Frenchy and the adult green.  Sea turtles of this size are clearly visible when they surface to breathe; the boaters simply were not watching where they were going and hit them.  Please keep our sea turtles safe by watching for surfacing sea turtles when boating during sea turtle season.  The green sea turtles are currently congregated offshore to mate, and the female leatherbacks, loggerheads, and greens will stay in the coastal waters to nest for the next several months.

The injured green arriving at the hospital; we covered the head to help keep him calm in the strange surroundings.  Sex was determined by the elongated tail, females have a much shorter tail.

If you find an injured sea turtle please report it to the Florida FWC sea turtle stranding hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

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.