Turtle WrestlingElizabeth Willis ‘13 | June 29, 2010
It was 1:20am on Tuesday, June 29. Jon, Ueli, Vanessa and I had just reconvened in the middle of the beach and I was telling Ueli and Vanessa that Jon and I had found two false crawls (without seeing the turtles) on our end of the beach. As I was talking, I was looking down at the water’s edge, scanning the coastline and marveling at the bright moon when I came across a rock-like dark shadow. I thought to myself, “That’s a rock I’ve never noticed before; I’m pretty sure there aren’t any rocks right there in front of the sun beds…” So I kept my eye on it until five seconds later it began to move and exit the water very slowly. I looked at Jon who was next to me and he had seen it too. We looked excitedly at Ueli, “It’s a turtle!”
We watched her come up out of the water—her exit time was 1:26am. She laboriously made her way a few meters up the beach and then stopped. We weren’t sure what she was up to at that point so we just waited. Then she started to make her way back down to the beach. We all looked at each other. “Shall we catch her?” “Yes, we still have to measure her and get her tag number!” The four of us sprinted across the sand, making a beeline for the turtles receding form. When we got there, Ueli and Jon tried to hold her still while I looked for a tag on her flippers and Vanessa got out the data sheets. There was no tag. Jon and Ueli hadn’t tagged a turtle yet, so we left it up to them to decide who would do the honors.
The whole while we were talking, the turtle was flailing about and struggling to get back to the water. We were on wet sand, very close to the water and she was pretty strong so we decided that we had to flip her over to tag her properly. It took the strength of three people (Ueli, Jon and me) to flip her over as she lashed out with her flippers. Jon got some sand whipped into his eyes, I got some in my mouth and we all got sand flung all over our clothes. I got the tag ready and passed it to Jon. Ueli and I crouched down to hold the turtle’s back left flipper steady. The turtle had pretty much calmed down at that point and she wasn’t struggling. So I did not in the least anticipate the smack on the bum that I got from her front flipper as I turned my back to her head! She was strong enough to make me loose my balance and fall over into the shallows, almost knocking Ueli over too.
Finally, upright and wary of any other flipper lashings, we managed to tag her. We then had to flip her upright again to get her shell measurements. Vanessa was recording the data all the while the rest of us were struggling with the turtle. Ueli and Jon managed to keep the turtle still enough for me to get her measurements, although it was no easy task! Every now and then she would open her mouth and stretch out as if to bit Jon, who was the closest to her head. She was a pretty big turtle, with a curved shell length of 81cm and width of 77cm. We were surprised she wasn’t tagged given her shell size. She didn’t have any barnacles on her shell, but she did have a cut along her neck with a few parasites, which was a little worrying. Unfortunately though, we couldn’t help with that.
Eventually we got down all the information we needed and we released her. She got to the water as fast as she could, heading straight for deep water. We looked at the time and it was only 1:35am. The rest of the night was uneventful, but I was content. What a way to end the first chapter of my trip! I have had the chance to see turtles, touch them, watch them nest, wrestle with them, snorkel with them. I feel as though I have experienced them in all the conditions and moods possible and have grasped an understanding of their lives in the water and their brief time on land.
Tonight I am giving a presentation about the Caretta caretta sea turtle to tourists in our Environmental Center and I have one last super shift to Koroni before I leave on Thursday. Even though it feels strange to be moving on and starting fresh with Archelon, I feel very satisfied with the work I have done here and the events I have had the chance to experience. It has truly been eye opening an