At one o’clock this morning as we were patrolling I spotted a dark patch at the edge of the water. Sure enough, it was an emerging Olive Ridley Sea Turtle. We backed off and sat down at a distance to wait for her to finish emerging. She was about three feet long from nose to tail and her domed shell was maybe 15″ high.
Once she had crawled up to the edge of the beach where the vegetation begins, we circled around and sneaked up behind her. She totally ignored us. She was digging a deep hole underneath her rear end with her hind flippers. You wouldn’t think that a sea turtle’s hind flippers would be particularly dexterous, but she would bend her flippers into an “L” shape, reach down deep, and carefully lift out a bit of sand using her left and right flippers alternately. The three of us lay on the sand right behind her and watched using the red light of our headlamps.
Then she stopped digging and started to lay eggs. Sean handed me a counter, which is a little mechanical device with a button and a display for tallying eggs. Lying on the ground just behind her, I peeked underneath her and every time an egg popped out I added it to the count. This wasn’t easy because often they would come out two at a time. She laid 78 eggs. They looked like wet, glossy white ping-pong balls; perfectly round. While I counted Sean and Dean went forward to measure her shell and give her a flipper tag, since she didn’t have one yet. All this is called “working a turtle” and it’s best done in a team of three.
When the eggs stopped coming, she backfilled the hole with sand, all using her hind flippers. Then she began her “dance”: she kind of stamped on the sand, left foot, right foot, left foot, etc., all the while shimmying back and forth and swaying her shell. I guess she does this to pack down the sand. We left.
I have a new appreciation for turtles! I’m going to have a special feeling about them the rest of my life.
This is my last blog form Costa Rica. I sure am grateful to the Earthwatch Institute for giving me this opportunity.