Where are they now: the true stories of each racing turtle

leatherback_wrapAll turtles were tagged off Halifax, Nova Scotia, in July 2008, and began their migrations in September. They began to cross into the Caribbean in late January-early February, and the data used to create the Race went through the beginning of March. Therefore, the real duration of the leatherbacks’ migrations was four to six months, but the Race compressed that time into a two-week period. Here we present what we think actually happened to each of the turtles in the Race based on their tracks during the Race and since the Race ended.

Wawa BearWawa Bear
Turtle Stats
Wawa Bear nested on the same beach she has nested on since 1993 in French Guiana in the early morning of 22 March 2009. She laid 95 billiard ball-sized eggs, weighed 560 kg, and still had her transmitter attached, so the scientists actually were able to track her right to the nesting beach all the way from Nova Scotia.
Listen to Dr. Mike James from the Canadian Sea Turtle Network describe their experiences watching Wawa Bear’s migration to her nesting beach and waiting for word that she had been spotted.

Turtle Stats
We actually got a faint hit from Billy’s transmitter about a month after it went silent, but after the Race had ended. Although the location was of limited accuracy, it appeared that Billy had crossed the finish line after all, and was hanging out off of Galera Point, Trinidad. This is typical behavior for an adult male in a breeding season (i.e. hanging out in waters off nesting beaches), and Billy’s choice of location was strategic, as Trinidad hosts one of the largest leatherback nesting colonies in the world, with thousands of females coming ashore to lay eggs each year.

Lindblad the ExplorerLindblad
Turtle Stats
Despite the transmitter ceasing to function while Lindblad was still out in the central Atlantic, the tag kicked on again about a month later, and Lindblad is now northwest of where she was previously, about 500 kilometers off Puerto Rico, but still not in the Caribbean. Our Costa Rican colleagues are waiting for her to come to nest if not this year, maybe next.

Turtle Stats
Despite going as far south as the other turtles, Nightswimmer turned around and is still heading northwest, but not very quickly. It appears that Nightswimmer might be in a non-reproductive year. Adult turtles that are not ready to reproduce in a given year still make long migrations to find food, but instead of going into the Caribbean like the other turtles, they often remain in deeper waters far out in the open Atlantic.

Grembo Jones Grembo and Searcher
Turtle Stats: Grembo | Searcher
It might look like they are lost and stuck out in the eastern Atlantic, or maybe even that they’re heading to Africa to nest. However, we know from Searcherprevious years that turtles will travel from Canada over to the eastern side of the Atlantic possibly to feed in the Mauritania upwelling off Africa, which supports a productive marine foodweb. These turtles are probably chowing on jellies for a while longer before they’ll make their way toward the Caribbean or the northeast coast of South America. It is also possible that they are in a non-reproductive year and will begin to head back to Canadian waters in the next few months.

Turtle Stats
It seems that Cali’s run-in with the fishing gear really did have a big impact on him. First, he began his migration much sooner than the other turtles – almost immediately after he was entangled and then released. Then, although it seemed like he was steaming toward the Caribbean, he suddenly hit the brakes and turned around. We think he did this because he didn’t have enough energy to make the full migration to breeding areas in tropical waters, so had to turn around and go back to ‘refuel.’ Although this is just our speculation about what happened, it definitely shows that even a relatively minor, non-lethal interaction with fishing gear can interrupt natural behavior of leatherbacks and affect whether they reproduce in a given year. Cali’s experience is very important for us to understand how influential fisheries bycatch can be to leatherbacks and other animals.

2009 Turtle Race Winner!
Turtle Stats
Shortly after crossing the finish line and doing a few more loops, Backspacer’s transmitter stopped signaling. We hope that she is spotted in the coming months by nesting beach colleagues.

Nueva EsperanzaNueva Esperanza
Turtle Stats
She has kept her momentum and is still moving inside the Caribbean. She was moving close to the coast of Colombia, possibly headed toward Panama or Costa Rica. However, the last we heard from her, she was in the into the Gulf of Urabá, Colombia, close to several large nesting beaches! We hope to hear very soon from our Colombian colleagues about her nesting.

Turtle Stats
He continues to hang around the Windward Islands, probably still trying to find females to mate with. As demonstrated by some of the turtles in the Race, many females have to cross this area to reach their nesting beaches on the mainland Caribbean, so Estéban has put himself in a great position. He has stuck pretty close to the coasts of St. Lucia and St. Vincent since crossing the finish line. This behavior is very typical of male leatherbacks.

Turtle Stats
He is still off the coast of French Guiana, likely still seeking opportunities to mate. The leatherback population that nests on the Guiana Shield (Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana) is one of the largest populations in the world, with thousands of females nesting each year. So, like Estéban (and possibly Billy), Seabiscuit has found a very good spot to spend the next month or so.

Can’t get enough turtles? Check out these stories and features for more shells and science.
FEATURE: Now or Never: Eastern Pacific Leatherbacks Face Extinction
DISPATCHES: Tagging Hawksbill Turtles in Ecuador
FEATURE: TurtleFest: An Odyssey Begins
RESEARCH: Persistent Leatherback Turtle Migrations Present Opportunities for Conservation
FEATURE: Communities and Sea Turtles


  1. Jenny Page says

    Is it possible to have a version of the results list as is found on the interactive map on the National Geographic Website that can be copied and pasted e.g. onto a Word document? The graphs that follow it make an ideal teaching tool for biology lessons – looking for connections and making hypotheses, but it would need a copy of the results too.

    Thank you for a wonderful event – I have really learned a lot from it.

    Jenny Page
    South Africa

  2. Pingback: Where are they now: the true stories of each racing turtle | Guiana today

  3. Anne-Marie Eklund says

    Is there a turtle race this year — 2010???? I didn’t hear about 2009’s race till it was over. Please let me know — I have kids at home and I teach middle school kids who would love to know!!!

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