Leatherback Nesting Season Week 6 and Injuries Update

Week Six started off slowly for nesting leatherbacks, however activity picked up rather quickly!  We ended the week with 10 individuals to bring our total number of sampled females to 50!! 

Nerita and her 5.8 foot carapace is nestled in a body pit as she lays her eggs (Photo: Derek Aoki)

The night crew were able to catch three turtles for the second time this nesting season: Shirleen, Sage, and Kitty!  We also encountered seven leatherbacks for the first time this season, however given the stage of the nesting season and the duration between nesting events, they could be on their second or third nests of the year. 

Nia, 156 cm (5.1 ft.), and Pakoa, 159.8 cm (5.2 ft.), were both tagged this earlier in the season, and Adira, whom was first tagged in 2015, was measured at 145.1 cm (4.8 ft.).  And then we saw Nerita.  Originally tagged in 2005, she is a behemoth, coming in at an astounding 178.7 cm (5.8 ft.) long and 124 cm (4 ft.) wide, by far the largest turtle we have seen this season.  We even had a neophyte (untagged turtle) this week!  Shasta is the tiny new nester, having a curved carapace length of 139 cm (4.5 ft.), and we hope this nesting season is the first of many, many more to come (assuming this is her first)!!

Director of Research Justin Perrault examines the head of Nia in order to check for injuries. (Photo: Kate Fraser)
Night Tech Kate Fraser and intern Madisen Liebl measure Nerita as she covers her egg chamber. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

The night crew encountered two leatherbacks that were initially tagged 18 years ago in 2001!!!  Lucy, a massive 161 cm CCL (5.3 ft.), was last seen in 2012, and Andromeda, a 158.5 cm CCL (5.2 ft.) female, was last seen by LMC staff in 2011.  Sadly both showed visible signs of major injuries.  Andromeda showed visible wear and tear of a creature who has been nesting for at least the past 18 years, with laceration marks on her flippers and carapace, most likely from a unintended fishing line.  Lucy had fresh wounds from an unintentional boat strike, and the surveyors could see past her carapace from the lacerations. 

Lucy as she nests. Notice the lacerations on her carapace from a boat. (Photo: Kate Fraser)
A close up of Lucy’s unintentional boat strike injuries. DISCLAIMER: Under permit FWC-MTP-19-205, flash photography is allowed by individuals under this permit. It is never allowed for others to use flash or white light on a sea turtle. (Photo: Justin Perrault)
Andromeda covering her nest. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

Injuries are fairly common in all turtles that we encounter that range from lacerations to animal bites to missing chunks of flippers.  Windy is a mama who was first seen on Juno in 2003 and has been seen twice this season.  She has visible bite marks on her flipper and scrapes on her head, presumably from a tiger shark, who are known as one of the few species that prey on leatherback turtles! 

Windy’s head, with visible laceration marks from what we presume is a tiger shark. (Photo: Derek Aoki)
A close up of Windy’s flipper with more bite marks.
DISCLAIMER: Under permit FWC-MTP-19-205, flash photography is allowed by individuals under this permit. It is never allowed for others to use flash or white light on a sea turtle. (Photo: Derek Aoki)

And while these injuries probably caused the turtles much distress at the time, the fact they still come ashore to nest shows how resilient they are.  Even after encounters with predators and/or humans, it goes to show nothing can stop these amazing creatures from living their lives at sea and on land!!

Thanks for reading this week’s post on the night work performed by LMC’s Research staff. Check back next week for even more exciting news and 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-19-205.