Friday, May 25, 2012

Hallelujah for Hatchlings

Alli had been staring at the sand for awhile. It was moving and making some noises here and there. She knew what was going on. I had strolled down to the beach at the end of the work day to take a swim, rest and read some book. I never got around to any of those activities. I then preceded to stare at the sand with Alli for another 30-40 minutes. I then knew what was coming too: hatchling Hawksbill sea turtles! The inaugural batch of 2012.

We did this for awhile. What can I say we were hog-wild for hatchlings!

*** Note: all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The only problem was this was the first time Alli and I had ever been around when the babies make their way up out of the sand. We didn't know if they'd take another 10 minutes or 4 hours. Before sunset for photos? Takeout dinner in the hatchery? Sprinting pee breaks? Vital questions we had no answers for. We were glued to the wiggling sand, continually watching it move about. You could hear the hatchlings rumbling below. Amazingly these tiny creatures (the shell is around 3.5 cm long) can take a day or two to dig out a nest 40 cm below the surface. That don't sound too jolly, but we had a feeling they were bout to hit pay dirt, or in this case, outside air.

Are them turtle heads poppin' up!?! Come on buddies...
For the record: this all took place on 10 May, I've just been a bad chronological blogger and haven't posted it yet. I'll try to be more timely, but one of the things you definitely learn in journalism school: always push the deadline. 

Moving on. After over an hour of staring one lil' bugger broke free. Another head poked out, a new flipper popped up and then it was a full-on turtle stampede. Flailing around and scurrying everywhere the hatchlings kept coming, like deranged Black Friday shoppers blood-thirsty for flat screens and video games. I can't undersell the moment. It was frickin' incredible. Watching a boil (who came up with this term!?!) of sea turtles come up like that is a surreal sight. And they just keep coming.

The winner of the grand sand race finally shows! First one is out.
After picking our jaws up and toning down the exciting expletives we kept repeating Alli and I started to transport the babies into a large cooler, counting as we plopped the manic turtles down. Dani and Izati were there too. One cool sight: while the turtles were still in the mesh net milling about, all were trying to get out and go toward the ocean. None were facing land or the jungle!

Can't stop, won't stop! More and more making their way to the top.
When all were accounted for 117 had made the vertical journey out of 140 eggs. That's a solid 83% hatching success rate, pretty dang good for Hawksbills. We then measured the length and width of 10 hatchlings and secured them in a huge tub. When you got 6 cats on the premises you need security.  In the days that followed another 5 made the journey out and then one loner a few days after that, pushing out total to 123.
Counting babies and into the cooler they go!

These babies came from a nest on Penut, a beach south of Juara Bay we monitor by boat. At 1am that same night we loaded up and headed out to release them. We always release from the location they were found. Some rocky reef was exposed on our walk in even though it was high-tide. These rocks are slippery. I was the one with the cooler full of hatchlings. I was concentrating a lot to not be the late-night dufus that dropped the babies. Nobody likes that dude or dudette.

Alli lookin' good with a turtle...
... and this dude lookin' creepy.
We got in position. Found a nice spot on the beach. Alli positioned the cooler, tipping it over just enough that they exploded out! Flippers gone wild, maneuvering over sand then rocks, but after that? Only ocean. Into the surf and disappear they did.

Above: the entire crew before release. Alli: set them free girl!
The hatchlings were released about 9 meters from the water line. Most of 'em took about 1.50 minutes to get into the ocean. One slow poke (he had some issues moving around a large rock) dragged behind, but after 4.30 minutes even this tortoise in the gang got to the finish line. Our job was done. They made it into the water. Hopefully in 20 years or so they'll make it back.


  1. These pictures are awesome! PS the email I created for this account is "" hehe Tara made it up!

  2. I have been enjoying your blog and am delighted to see the baby turtles have been launched. Best of luck to them all.

  3. Glad you all are enjoying the blog and its various stories and photos, especially of these wee lil' Hawksbills making their way up through the sand!

    Barb: Hello there! Hahahaha, I've heard you been feeding Polly quite a large amount of wet food. So much so in fact that she only eats the stuff now! What are we gonna do with here in the future!?! Anyway, thanks again so, so much for taking care of our wild out kitty. Give the one-toothed wonder a shout out from me!