Friday, December 16, 2016

Baby, It's COLD Outside. 12-10-2016

Sorry to be so slow to write this up. I have been sick. This is how I got that way.

We got the call for turtle patrol at a new (to us) beach. Our usual loooong walk was being replaced by a tiny one, just .2 miles. Seems easy. It was in Dennis, which is about a half hour closer than the usual walk. So, we set out in the wee hours of Saturday morning to get there between first light (7 AM) and high tide (7:30 am)... and by jiggity, we made it there at 7:15! Now the bad part... it was brutally cold with high winds. "Real feel" of below zero.

When we pulled into the lot, there were two people there with a Kemp's they had just plucked out of the water. OK, so turtles were indeed coming in. We went down to the beach and saw what we had in store for ourselves.
Waves were crashing in relentlessly. There was no real beach to speak of... just rocky walls and crashing waves. Our job was to ride out the high tide as it came in and keep our eyes peeled for turtles.

I wonder how many crash to their deaths on this wall. The waves were pounding into it. There was a seal playing out there at one point. Crazy mammal.

We did our best to patrol the waves and tides on the tiny bit of beach area and the crashing along the rocks. Sure enough, about 15 minutes into it, a wave quickly came up and soaked my feet. It was bitter cold and my feet went numb pretty quickly. I walked a lot to keep them usable. I didn't notice it after a while, but that's probably where I got sick.

It was so cold and the wind was so harsh that Andrea actually had to take a break after an hour or so. It was nasty out there. This was a different kind of turtle patrol. On the big beach, we walk along and "find" them washed up. Here, in this frigid cold, we wait and watch. Time is of the essence; turtles only have minutes before exposure to this cold will kill them. They're sick already, don't forget... cold stunned. After a few hours, we decided to call in and see if we were needed elsewhere. High tide hadn't brought anything else in and low tide wasn't revealing anything.

We were told to just walk any beach on the way to the sanctuary. We were in the viscinity of a place we were familiar with so we took a quick detour to walk the 1.5 mile beach. Stretching our legs helped keep us warmer. The tide was going out and revealing plenty of rocks, but no turtles. We got to the end of the beach which has a rocky barrier that goes on for about 30 feet before the next beach starts. I climbed over the rocks (carefully) to look at the adjacent beach. It was about a half mile long and had been beaten by waves. It needed a look-see. I believe it was a private beach.

On the way out, I kept my eyes peeled for whatever might be there. A dead Loon was the first thing I saw. Just before the next rock barrier, which marked the end of this beach, I was pretty sure I saw a turtle. I did. It was on its back, never a good sign. I flipped it over and saw that it was a young Loggerhead. 
No way this guy was alive, but you treat them all as if they are, so he was coming with me.

The term dead weight must have been invented by a guy carrying a turtle. Only a short half mile to the rocks where Andrea was waiting. I was guessing about 40 lbs on this guy. Biceps were screaming as I hobbled over the rocky divider. I rested while she called it in. We were going to have to get him the last mile and a half to the parking area. I had a rare moment of lucidity and fashioned a turtle harness for him. I unzipped my coat to the bottom and stuck his legs and the bottom point of his shell into that so it would hold him up. I wrapped him in the towel kindly donated by my friend Brenda. Then I put my backpack around the front to hold him like a papoose.
It should be noted that Andrea froze her hands taking that photo.

We got him almost there and were met by a volunteer named Maureen who had recently plucked a Kemp's out of the water on a nearby beach. She had it with her and it was very much alive! Her first solo rescue!
She was on duty to collect turtles that had been found but, since we were heading to the sanctuary anyway, we traded duties and we took her Kemp's and our (dead) Loggerhead to Wellfleet.

The Loggerhead went into this room, where it is slightly warmer, to see make sure the animals are dead.
That front row is a Loggerhead, a big Kemp's and our guy on the right. Not much hope for any of these turtles, but volunteers were watching over them, looking for signs of life... a breath, a blink... any sign. One Kemp's took a breath; no efforts were wasted.

We were told that our usual walk, the big beach, had yielded no turtles. Weird. We also got some always-appreciated face time with our friend Tim, whose turtle-efforts are legendary. 

We were going to taxi turtles to the aquarium on the way home but that wouldn't be until later, so as we awaited further instructions, we relaxed for as moment and looked around the sanctuary, one of my favorite places on Earth. Oh, how I miss Painted Turtles.

The sideways smile of a flounder...

A call came in from a guy who had found 4 Kemp's so, since we were handy, we went to retrieve them. They were on a beach behind a museum in Dennis. We got back over there in pretty good time and took our sled with us on the hike. The grounds and trails behind this museum look amazing for Box Turtles and, once it got marshy, for Terrapins. But that's for another season. We had to find the sea turtles this guy had stashed.

They were exactly where he'd said they would be. We packed them up on the sled (and the last, bigger one in my backpack).

After getting them into the Corolla, we called to say that we were heading back and they gave us another spot to make a pick-up. It was right next to where we'd been in the morning. We got there and I headed down to the beach and a man was walking up. I asked if he'd reported turtles and he said yes. I asked where they were and he said "right here." He had them in his backpack.

This is the guy who had found the other four that we'd just picked up, too. He is also the owner of the beachfront property right there. It's good to have him on our side. We now had a Corolla full of turtles again.
It was a pretty safe bet that all of these turtles were expired.

We got them back to the sanctuary and put them into the waiting-for-death room, which was now empty. It turns out that both Loggerheads had shown a small flicker of life when they were loading the vehicle to head to the aquarium (our pick-ups made it so we were unavailable for the aquarium delivery), so they put them both in and sent them on their way! Now, I'm not going to go out on a limb and say YEAH!! My Loggerhead lived! But at least he had a shot. (One Loggerhead out of 5 on the year had died, it was reported that afternoon... I don't want to know if it was our guy.)

So, that's that. We got home, warmed up, crashed and I have been sick ever since. I will not be able to participate this week in turtle patrol, should they have them. (Patrols were cancelled today, Friday the 16th, due to obscenely cold temps that would be dangerous to humans. Hopefully, turtles will stay in the water until things warm up later in the weekend.) I'll be well enough to get back out there soon.


  1. This is really impressive work guys. You've found a way to make the off season less unbearable *and* make a difference.

    If I had reliable transport I'd be out on the beaches too!

    1. Thanks, man... and thank you for all you do for our native species year round! We need more folks who want to make a difference!