13 September 2008

Chomper, the Little Loggerhead

Tonight, Mark asked me to invite park turtle volunteers to a hatchling release from SR7111. Before we were to release the 91 hatchlings from last night, I headed to the Santa Rosa area to assess nest SR7081.

Monica and I found this nest on night patrol on July 8. It was borderline, at just 38 feet from the high tide line, but it was on a slight elevation so we left it in place. After repeated washings in Dolly, Eduoard and Fay, we decided to move it before Gustav came ashore. The nest already had 38 eggs that were clearly ruined by sitting water, but the other 90 looked viable. The nest finally hatched on September 10, which means the 72 hour post-hatch assessment was due this evening. We usually assess nests just before sundown so we can more easily see what stage embryos stopped developing, and so we can release any live hatchlings as soon as it gets dark.

I was really happy to find 19 more hatchlings in the nest! Added to the 62 from a few days ago, that's 81 that we know made it to the Gulf of Mexico. A few more may have escaped during the stormy weather when it wasn't possible to have nest sitters on the beach.

Among the 19 hatchlings in the nest was one straggler, a late hatcher that still had a bend to his carapace and was not ready for a swim. The photos of him aren't so wonderful as they're from the beach after sunset, but they give a good idea of why he wasn't ready to swim yet!

I set this little guy in a safe place where sea gulls and ghost crabs couldn't get him while I released his nestmates and opened the remaining eggs. There were a lot of plain yellow yolks!

Meanwhile, Chomper struggled on his back, flipping over even when I tried to let him crawl on his belly. He was just too curved from being cramped in that ping pong ball-sized egg for two months.

I don't know that the turtle was a he -- I just call it that because it's easier, and because he's so stubborn, and a fighter. All good things when you're a one ounce hatchling facing the mighty predator obstacle course in the Gulf of Mexico!

I already had one cooler full of hatchlings on my ATV, so I didn't have any cooler available for this little guy. We don't mix hatchlings from different nests in the same vessel due to contamination concerns. I had no choice but to hold the little loggerhead for the five mile beach drive down to the Santa Rosa POD.

This little guy must have been rather freaked out. This odd, two-legged, 5 foot three thing had just dug into his nest, yanked him out into the sunlight, and set him upside down in the sand. That must have been quite strange. After a short while, I picked him up, cradled him in the palm of my hand, and started driving the jiggly ATV down the beach. Not many sea turtles are adapted to this sort of experience, and the little guy responded appropriately. He reached out his little leathery neck, found the soft fold of skin between my thumb and forefinger, and bit... and held tight. It didn't hurt, but it I did feel it!

This created a strange predicament for me. I gently removed him from my skin after a few seconds, and thought about a tiny turtle lecture. I realize turtles neither understand nor speak English, but I talk to them from time to time anyway. This was one of those times.

Normally, we tell our pets, livestock or other animals we encounter not to bite. That wasn't the message I wanted to pass on to the newly hatched loggerhead. I was happy he bit me. That meant he wasn't afraid to fight off a predator and he stands a good chance in the crazy ocean environment, so I told him to keep on biting. Bite the ghost crabs, the blue crabs, the speckled crabs, the sea gulls, heck, bite the sharks! Fight, and swim hard little dude...

That's the second time in my life that I've been bitten by a hatchling -- the first was just a few weeks ago. How strange is that? At any rate, I'm happy little Chomper has that sort of spirit. He's a survivor!

1 comment:

Klaus said...

Big Smile on my end! :)
Cheers, Klaus

International Coastal Clean-Up!

The 2008 Coastal Clean-Up on Santa Rosa Island was a great success, but we can work together to make everyday a Coastal Clean-up Day... Help us keep our beaches beautiful!

For details on the 2009 coastal clean-up efforts in Pensacola or in your area, or other ways you can help, click here.

Hello World!

Hello World!
Which way to the sea?