A window inside life at Augustana College

Day one of turtle internship: Dissection, Protocol, and Patrol

I performed my first turtle dissection yesterday. It was one of the coolest, yet grossest things I have done so far.  The turtle we dissected was found on the beach prior to my arrival and was frozen until the start of the intern training.  Using this turtle we learned how and where to tag the nesting females as well as what the varying parts of its entrails looked like.  If you want to see pictures of the dissection just send me an email, danicagray12@augustana.edu, and I will send them to you!
Our patrol was not an exciting one due to the fact that the water is still to cold for the turtles.  We did however spot our first one that was swimming around in the marshes, so it should not be long for them to start nesting!
Our protocol is as follows:
When a turtle comes up onto the beach, we will measure it notch to notch, notch to longest tip, and at its longest width. We will be measuring both the straight and curved lengths.  After doing so, we will check for tags using a PIT scanner and looking for metal rear and front flipper tags (Most turtles that come here may  not have tags on them unless previous tagged by us at early stages of the summer).  After scanning, we must inject PIT tags into the front left flipper in the tricep area of the turtles flipper so the PIT tags do not migrate throughout the flipper.  We must also apply a metal  tag to both front flippers.  Photo tags are taken so we can display the turtles to the rest of the park and show the various campers on the island what a loggerhead turtle looks like since most have never seen one before.  When they are finished laying their eggs, we must make the decision to relocate the nest or not.  We will not typically do this unless it is to close to the high tide line where the eggs have the potential to get washed away.  If this is the case, we will dig a new hole closer to the dune line on the island and move each egg one by one so we do not tear the embryo from the shell.  A metal cage is placed over the nest and buried 2 inches down to protect the eggs from hungry raccoon’s  foxes, and larger ghost crabs.  For a DNA test being performed on the egg shells, we must take one egg from each nest, empty its contents away from the nest, and save the shell.  This project is helping researchers better track where the mother turtles are nesting.  Sometime we will have turtles do a false crawl where they will come up onto varying points on the beach and not lay a nest.  When this happens the protocol is the same, minus what we would have to do for a nest.  Every time we see a turtle we must take its latitude and longitude coordinates for the state.
I work a minimum of 4 nights a week from 9 PM – 6 AM.  We scan the beach before the sun goes down to ensure that there is nothing dangerous in the way of our patrol, to make sure nests that are already there have not been subject to predators or vandalism, and to see if the odd turtle came onto the beach while we were not patrolling.  Once we start patrolling we drive the length of the beach (about 4 miles) every 30 minuets because that is how long it typically takes turtles to nest.  There will be 2-3 people working each night.
If you guys have any questions, please do not be afraid to ask! As I learn more and see more turtles, I will be posting pictures of them.
If you would like any information about sea turtles as well, I can scan copies of some of our handouts and the brochures that the park offers!

4 Responses to “Day one of turtle internship: Dissection, Protocol, and Patrol”

  1. You will know a LOT about sea turtles by the end of the summer! It’s so heartening to see people working to save them. What park/organization are you working for?

  2. I am working for Hammocks Beach State Park in North Carolina.

  3. This is one of the best hands-on internships I’ve heard about … and you didn’t even complain about the hours (9 p.m.-6 a.m.)! Was that hard to get used to?

  4. We just started on Tuesday, so I am still trying to get used to the hours. They are not that bad so far. We get two days off a week as well which I am using to catch up on sleep! Haha

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