La Primera Baula! (The First Leatherback!)

Trip Start Oct 30, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Monday, December 8, 2008

If you can't tell, this is a very very exciting event!  So I'm down here working on the Ostional LEATHERBACK and Pacific Green Turtle Project and I've been here for about 5 weeks waiting and waiting and waaaaaaaaaiting for the leatherbacks to show up!  Basically up until now it has been only the Ostional Green Turtle Project which has been kind of discouraging because, while the green turtles are cool, the leatherbacks are really the ones that will take your breath away.  Before I recite the tale of the first leatherback, here are some quick leatherback fun facts:

-The leatherback is the largest sea turtle and is the largest living reptile in the world. Mature males and females can be as long as six-and-a -half feet and weigh almost 2000 lbs.

- Leatherbacks get its name from its shell, which is like a thick leathery skin, with the texture of hard rubber.

- Females return to the beach of their 'birth' to lay eggs while males will never again return to land during their approximate 80-year lifetime.

- They are unique among sea turtles in that their primary food is jellyfish. They also will eat fish, mollusks, squid, sea urchins, and other marine creatures. (I have NO IDEA how they can grow so huge on a jellyfish diet...crazy)

Basically, they are really fascinating creatures.  This year the first leatherback arrived in Ostional around 12:30 am on December 7.  I had been on the early patrol from 7-midnight which was extremely uneventful and consisted mostly of walking up and down the empty beach and playing solitare on my iphone during the thirty minute breaks. The most exciting thing the whole night was that the moon was finally out, it has been missing for the last few weeks, so it was nice to actually be able to see for once.  I returned to the station at twelve and went to bed only to be awakened about 40 minutes later by a commotion of light and yelling in the room.  I heard someone say "baula! primera baula !" (baula means leatherback in spanish) and I shot up out of bed, got tangled in my mosquito net and megan and I quickly changed into dark patrol clothes (right in front of Jaikel the teenage research assistant trainee who had run back to wake us, oh well, lucky him haha) and ran out and ran down the beach about 500 meters to where the turtle had emerged from the sea and the rest of the late patrol was already waiting and celebrating.  I was glad it decided to come close to the station because I was not ready to spring from sleeping to running a mile in the sand in my crocs hahaa. What had happened was that there was a green turtle who had come out right in the same area and while the group was waiting around for the green turtle to nest, the leatherback came right out of the ocean in front of them, out of ALL the other places it could have come out on the whooole beach it came out right to them !  So as we ran up we could see the HUUUUUGE dark tractor tread type track coming from the ocean which in itself was pretty incredible.  I'm posting a picture of me laying in what is left of it the next morning, also one of me in the much smaller green turtle track for comparison.   We waited for her to dig her hole and celebrated and jumped up and down in the dark with each other and then when it finally was time for her to lay her eggs we got to work.  Linda, me and Jaikel got to work with the turtle rather than the volunteers so that we get leatherback experience for the future and it was awesome to get to work with her.  She was 150 cm long and 107 cm wide over the widest part of her carapace (shell) and laid 82 normal eggs and 33 yolkless eggs which are smaller and go on top to protect the fertile eggs.  We relocated her eggs because she was laying them kind of close to the low tide zone and with the full moon high tides coming we dont want to risk them getting swept away ! I went to go help Danilo relocate the eggs and then realized it was almost 3 am and I hadn't slept and had to get up at 8 so finally went back at 3.  I was hoping to see her go back into the water and was kind of scared I'd get in her way and suddenly had "Kristin got run over by a Baula" to the tune of "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" stuck in my head, hahahahahaha.  She was already gone though by the time I passed by.  It turns out that she is the same turtle that was the first to come two years ago to Ostional so hopefully she's going back to let the others know its safe to go and we'll have more soon !  They come back every 9-11 days to re-nest so we should see her again in just over a week, hopefully on my patrol !  It has definitely been a relief to have her show up, last year there were only 8 nesting femals in Ostional over the whole season and with their rapidly declining population numbers in the pacific we all had sad thoughts in the back of our heads that they'd all been caught out in fishing nets in the ocean and died. 
Unfortunately we can't take pictures at night so i'll just include my picture of the tracks and pictures of the sand turtle we built the next day with the new ISV volunteers which I think is fairly accurate...ok not perfect but it will give you an idea ! 
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