It’s that time of year again! Right now, on Juno Beach, we have all three species nesting on any given night. Leatherbacks are starting to slow down but loggerheads are going steady and green turtles are starting to pick up.
A green turtle in a deep body pit while she lays her eggs. Photo credit: Kate Fraser.
In addition to all three species taking over Juno Beach, our leatherback nests are starting to hatch! This past week we had our first two leatherback nests hatch. After seeing these big mamas for a few months it’s always amazing to see how small they are when they start. Although some recent studies have begun to shed insight into where little loggerheads and green turtles go once they leave the beach, what young leatherbacks do remains one of the biggest questions in sea turtle biology.
Loggerhead (top), green turtle (middle), and leatherback (bottom) hatchlings. When they hatch, leatherbacks are the largest with the longest flippers, proportionately. Photo credit: Bethany Augliere.
A leatherback hatchling still has its caruncle, or egg tooth. Hatchling turtles use their caruncles to break through the eggshell when they hatch, but lose them as they grow older. Photo credit: Bethany Augliere.
This past week we did have a few ladies make their first appearance on Juno Beach but we’ve primarily seen repeat mamas. Xena and Sally nested on Juno Beach for the first time this season. Sally was originally tagged in 2005 and Xena was originally tagged in 2010.
Xena laid her eggs while beachgoers observed. Photo credit: Dr. Justin Perrault
We also saw three-peat nesters Bimbi and May, as well as second time nesters Scarpetta, Opal, Kelly Clarkson, Lima, and Spica. Of the turtles we’ve seen this past week Spica has been tagged the longest, since 2002. Kelly Clarkson was first tagged this year. Kelly Clarkson was the smallest, measuring 143.3 cm in minimum cured carapace length (CCL) and Lima was the largest at 157.2 cm in minimum CCL.
Scarpetta, while depositing her eggs into her egg chamber. Scarpetta’s nest is one of the southernmost leatherback nests in our survey area. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Lima, while she laid her nest. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Generally, when we see a nesting leatherback we notice scarring or injuries. It is very rare that we see a female without any scarring. We often seen females that are missing parts of their flippers. Most of these appear to have been bitten off by sharks. In addition to predatory injuries, some females have notches missing from their carapace, propeller wounds, or extensive scratches on their carapace from boat strikes. Many females have scarring in their shoulder area where they were likely entangled in fishing gear.
Aussie’s right front flipper is missing a large portion. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Electra’s scarring, likely a result of previous entanglement, is visible on her left flipper. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Lynne’s head and carapace were covered in extensive scratches. Scars that are pink are generally more recent. Photo credit: Kate Fraser.
May is missing a notch out of her carapace. Photo credit: Christina Coppenrath
Spica was missing part of one hind limb when she was encountered in 2004. Now, both hind limbs appear to have been partially bitten off. Photo credit: Kate Fraser.
It is amazing to see how much these animals endure during their migrations and yet how resilient they are. Animals that are literally missing limbs are still able to survive, migrate, and reproduce. Still, it is so important that we try to minimize our impacts on wildlife like marine turtles. Efforts such as safe and careful boating practices, proper disposal of fishing gear and other trash, and reduction of single-use plastics are all ways that you can help to minimize the impacts that humans have on these magnificent animals.
Our 2018 leatherback nesting season is winding down but make sure to keep following along for the rest of our updates!
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.