Sunday, December 4, 2016

December Turtle Adventure. 12-3-2016

So, despite having said we weren't going to do turtle patrol again unless we were specifically called for it, I found myself contacting the directors about walking the big beach again on December 3rd. Our friend Bob, one of the world's most caring naturalists, was planning on driving up from Northern PA to lend a hand, walk the beach and hopefully save a turtle or two. They said that the 1:40 PM high tide had been assigned already and we were asked to walk at first light. Bob left PA at sundown on Friday the 2nd. He slept in his car to await first light. We set the alarm for 3:45 Saturday morning and hit the road exactly one hour later. Too bad we had band practice on Friday night and were working on just 4 hours sleep.

Meeting Bob on Cape Cod was an excellent carrot to dangle in front of us. However tired we were, he had worked harder to get there. The forecast first light was 6:51 but by the time we arrived, the sun was up and we saw Bob out birding as he waited for us. It was cold and very windy. It was good weather for turtles to wash up. We made our greetings, bundled up and trekked out to the beach, where we were greeted with pelting sand and icy winds.

It was low tide, which was weird for us; we are usually there at high tide. The three of us spaced ourselves a bit for maximum beach blanketing as we walked South. About a half mile in, we saw something in the distance. Had the low tide unearthed an unfamiliar rock? Bob and I checked it out with our binoculars. Too big to be a turtle. But it sure looked like one. No, no way. Too big. But doesn't that pink rock in the front look like a head? No way. If that's a turtle, it would have to be a Loggerhead or something. As we got closer, it became more clear... we had indeed stumbled across a large Loggerhead.
Our quick life-test was administered... I touched it's closed eye and it blinked. Alive. Bob and I braced ourselves and prepared to move it above the high tide line.
It was heavy... we were guessing 50 lbs or so. It was flapping it's flippers and legs a lot... it was very much alive.

I dug out a hole and Bob single-handedly placed the large turtle into it.
We then proceeded to cover the body with seaweed and placed our marker and called it in. Our friend Rebecca was already manning the phones. It was 7:30 AM.

That's the first Loggerhead Andrea and I have ever encountered on the beach. Thank goodness Bob had made the trip... it made the moving of this beast much easier on the two of us!

The rest of the walk to the point (roughly 3 more miles) was uneventful but we were all pumped with some much needed adrenaline. It was ridiculously windy out there and we were getting pummelled with wind, salt and sand. This is a shot of us walking back North... that is Andrea and Bob walking with their backs to the wind. It was the only way to move at times.

While out at the Point, we encountered two Kemp's Ridley turtles that had washed up. Both were found on their backs and looked pretty much expired. But we are to treat every turtle as potentially alive, so we prepared to bring them back. This first one was put into my backpack while Andrea and Bob alternated carrying the second one back in their arms.
Andrea's face was already windburned.

Not too far off the Point, we saw a group of people heading out. We thought it was another turtle patrol. They turned back. As we walked along, the waves were crashing in. It was pushing 10 AM and though the high tide was still a few hours away, my footprints from the way out were beginning to wash away. The wave were pounding in. It looked like it was going to be a big afternoon.

We started to catch up to the other group and could see that they carried a sled. Definitely turtle folks. One member of the crew headed out towards us. He reached us and said hi. I was asking him if they were looking for turtles, but before I heard an answer, I heard Bob exclaim," Mike... that's a turtle..."

In the crashing waves, he thought he had seen flipper. He did. There was a small Kemp's Ridley being thrashed about in the waves. He would start coming in, stick his head up for a breath, disappear, reappear, get knocked onto his back in the waves... he just never got close enough to make things easy. Eventually, he got into the shallow-enough water. Bob filmed this.

That's worth a couple of soakers. This was Bob's lifer Kemp's, so he got the honor of carrying it in. His keen eye is what saved it's life.

It turns out the group that we had now caught up with was the crew that had come to retrieve the Loggerhead, but they had considerably overshot it. There were calls made to Andrea to help get them back to the right spot but the wind had been so vicious that she was unable to hear her phone. Lesson learned... we must always keep it near our ears and check it often. We added a couple of miles on to these fine volunteers' day. My deepest apologies.

The volunteers were from Maine's Unity College and they had been on this beach at high tide in the night and would be doing it again this evening. This is an amazing crew of young folks who are sacrificing a lot of sleep and working their butts off. We finally got back to the Loggerhead. All tracks and marks we had made leading to the turtle mound has been blown over by sand. Our reflective marker stood but on this vast beach, it was easy to miss. The turtle itself had also been covered with sand. As I cleared the sand from her head, she started moving again and became cantankerous again. I lifted it onto the sled they had brought. The line from JAWS came to mind... "we're gonna need a bigger sled..." But we got her on and moving. She even helped the pull a little, acting like a surfer paddling out to the big wave.

Forget all of that "he ain't heavy, he's my turtle" stuff... he was heavy!

Bob had gone ahead with his Ridleys and while he waited for the rest of us, he made a good, informative video about the plight these turtles face. It can be found on his Facebook page.

I had both Ridleys from the Point with me and I got the the Sanctuary truck and laid them out. Sadly, they hadn't relaxed at all... their flippers were still stiff. Rigor mortis. These two had expired on the beach.

But the other Kemp's was alive and feeling good enough to give me the side-eye.

We loaded up the turtles and everyone headed back to the Sanctuary. We went there as well, to see if any turtles, ours or others, needed a lift to the aquarium. It was on our way home, after all.

We would indeed be taking turtles, including "our" Loggerhead and living Kemp's Ridley, plus one more Kemp's that had come in that morning. While looking over the Loggerhead, it was weighed at 88 lbs!!! Man, I guess our adrenaline had kicked in or we're just stronger than we thought. Another Kemp's came in while we were waiting and we'd be taking that one, too.

So, getting a big Loggerhead into a Corolla isn't as easy as it sounds... and it doesn't even sound very easy. But we made it and loaded two boxes of Kemp's back there, too. The third Kemp's rode on Andrea's lap. We had to keep the car at 55°, which wasn't too bad. (Last year, we had to keep the windows down in cold winter weather. It was a balmy 47° when we hit the road.)

Bob had decided to stay on the Cape and go birding at Race Point, since he was nearby. So, we made our teary goodbyes.

And we hit the road...

We got the turtles to the aquarium despite some very crappy traffic. The Loggerhead made quite a stir there. It was estimated to be about 5 years old... old enough to know better, I should think! We looked around the facility for a spell, watching rescued turtles swimming in their rehab tanks. The work these people do is amazing and inspiring. Between them and the Sanctuary folks, I am completely humbled to be in their company. They do such an incredible, tireless job. These people are true heroes in my eyes. We didn't take any photos inside the aquarium, so this little statue, quietly hidden away outside, will have to suffice.

And that is what its all about. People working hard to help animals in need. It is very rewarding for us and I am proud to be associated with people like Andrea and Bob, who put aside personal comfort for the chance to help an animal in danger. And the people at the aquarium and Sanctuary... Bob P., Rebecca, Jacklyn, Tim, etc... who dedicate their lives to the well being of animals, I am in awe of them and forever inspired by them.

I imagine we'll be back on the beach next week.

Support the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary here.
Check out Bob's page here.


  1. yous are all heros in my book

  2. I'm in awe of you, Andrea, and all your other friends who do this. Wonderful to find the hope and helpers in the world. Thank you.

  3. We saw "your" Loggerhead at the aquarium yesterday as we delivered another (70lb) specimen as well as a dozen Ridley's. The Logger was in the 60 degree pool and swimming clumsily. But ... he looked good overall. Time will tell. You guys did an amazing job finding it and getting it off the beach. Hats off to you and your friend Bob. See you soon, Tim

    1. Thank you, Tim, for everything you do for turtles everywhere! You have been a great inspiration to a lot of people, us very much included!

    2. That loggerhead had a couple of scrapes on it's face, so it's possible it got bashed against some rocks. That may account for the clumsiness.

  4. So awesome. You folks do great work under tough conditions.

  5. "!Todo es hermoso!!!!Ustedes son hermosos!! Martha