Have you ever wondered how we measure the turtles we see? Our measurement of “shell length” is actually the curved carapace length (CCL) of the turtle. The carapace is the top (or back) part of a turtle’s shell. We measure the carapace using a soft measuring tape and we call this measurement the curved carapace length, or CCL. In smaller turtles we can use a tool called calipers to measure the straight carapace length but they don’t make calipers large enough for leatherback turtles! Calipers are also pretty clumsy to use with larger turtles so CCL is the standard measurement for leatherbacks.
Here, Director of Research Dr. Justin Perrault is measuring the CCL of Bunny on April 19. Photo credit: Tina Bruaset.
Moving on to our new turtles! We are definitely seeing some of the same females that we have already encountered this year but we are also seeing new nesting females. Most of the new mamas are tagged (meaning they’ve been encountered before us) but we have also seen some neophytes. Neophytes are untagged turtles that are presumably new nesters.
We’ve seen four neophytes this season. The last neophyte we encountered was Nugget, a female we encountered on May 2. Nugget was the smallest leatherback we have encountered this season. She measured 138.4 cm in curved carapace length. This mama’s shell length of 140.2 cm translates to approximately 4 and a half feet, about a foot shorter than our largest mama this season, Electra, who measured 169 cm (approx. 5 and a half feet).
Nugget, as she began to cover her nest. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath.
Musca was a new remigrant that we encountered on May 9. She was originally tagged in 2003 and last seen in Juno Beach in 2013. Musca had some scarring on the her right front flipper and on the right side of her shell. This type of scarring could be indicative of an entanglement wound from fishing gear. Many of the females we see have some sort of scarring.
Musca while she laid her clutch of eggs. Top: Musca’s right side, with scarring visible. Behind her, Dr. Justin Perrault prepares to sample her. Bottom: Musca’s left side, scar free! Photo credits: Christina Coppenrath
In addition to the new mamas for this season, we’ve been continuing to see repeat nesters! Adele, who first nested in Juno Beach on April 25, returned to nest on May 6. Little Baby, who we first saw on April 28, returned on May 8. Bimbi, who we first encountered on April 29, returned to nest on May 9. In addition, we had our second three-peat nester! Wildfire, who previously nested in Juno Beach on April 11 and May 1, nested on our beach again last night. That’s the second three-peat of the season!
Little baby in her body pit while she laid her clutch of eggs. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Little Baby lifting her head to take a breath while she deposited her eggs into her nest chamber. Photo credit: Kim Rigano.
LMC technicians observing Wildfire deposit her eggs into her egg chamber. Photo credit: Kim Rigano.
Keep checking back for more information about the leatherback mamas we are seeing!
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-18-205.