As we near the midpoint of sea turtle hatching season on the Outer Banks it is time for an update.
As usual our Nest #1 started the hatching season off early with a big surprise. It hatched on day 48 of incubation – a whole week early. This was the earliest we have ever had a nest hatch but with the hot, hot summer that we have had it is understandable. Luckily we had a slight depression that gave us a clue that we better muster the troops. Sixty-three turtles came out the first night. The next day, one straggler came out in the middle of the day. With no more action for two days, it was time to excavate. The 7:30 excavation had to be called off when at 7:15 two little loggerheads popped out of the nest. With the sun still up, we got some fun pictures to share with you.
It is a very rare treat for us to be able to photograph hatching sea turtles since they usually hatch in the dark and we cannot use a flash. Every night that we sat out waiting we had visits from the foxes. We were afraid to leave the nest at night because foxes love to dig up the nests and eat the babies and un-hatched eggs. When we finally excavated we had four more healthy turtles race to the sea.
All of the eggs in the nest actually hatched but, several little ones that had pipped (broken out of their eggs) did not survive. Another big surprise when we excavated was there were four small spacer eggs in the nest. We have never seen spacer eggs with loggerheads – just leatherbacks.
Nest #2 was our very rare Kemps Ridley nest. You know it was going to be a surprise. With our hot weather, we expected all of our nests to hatch early – just not a week early. This one was not early. Only 6 little turtles developed and hatched. All of the other eggs were fertilized but did not develop. We hope the six that hatched were females and will return to our beaches someday. We thought the kemps hatchlings would be much smaller than the loggerheads since the adults are about a third the size of an adult loggerhead. The kemps were not that much smaller. You just never know what to expect with sea turtles.
Nest #3 is playing games with us. It still has not hatched.
Nest #4 came right on day 55. We were ready. With the full moon, the tide was really coming up high on the beach. Nineteen little ones worked their way out before the waves washed over the nest. As you know, once the little turtles come out of their eggs they have to breathe like you and I. Water sitting on the nest could drown the hatched turtles still under the sand. With the sand in the nest cavity moving, it was obvious that there were hatched turtles beneath the sand. It was decided to excavate that night. There is always something new and different with every nest. After the top layer of sand was carefully removed from the nest, seventy-one turtles boiled out and raced to the ocean. What a successful night for all involved. Life does not get any better than sitting out on the beach under a full moon and watching lots of little endangered sea turtles begin their incredible journey.
We are half way through the season. We have four more nests to monitor. We wonder what surprises the turtles have in store for us with the remaining nests. We will just have to wait and watch. With this hot summer, the wait will probably not have to be very long. But, you never know!