I received a call this afternoon asking if I would go out to set screens on two nests this evening: one near Navarre Beach, one on Pensacola Beach. The nest on Pensacola Beach had actually hatched/emerged last night, but it is not uncommon for there to be a few stragglers to come out the following day.
After placing both screens, I came home for about half an hour and then went out to check on the Pensacola Beach nest one last time. It was about 8:30 p.m. which, for some reason, seems to be one of the two 'witching hours' for hatchlings to emerge (the other is 2:30 a.m., go figure!). Sure enough, there was one lone hatchling, scooting from corner to corner of the screen, trying to find a way out to the Gulf of Mexico.
I rubbed my hands in the sand to scrub off or at least disguise any icky human smells which might upset him and lifted the edge of the screen. The little fella was ready to head south!
I set him down and watched briefly as he headed toward the Gulf of Mexico. There was no sign of disorientation, helped tremendously by the fact the nest was behind two beach homes which were not occupied - hence no light to confuse him. I then took him about 30' from the water, placed him on the sand, and he gave me not even one last look as he scooted to the water.
This last hatchling from the nest has a tough path ahead. There is safety in numbers when a large group of hatchlings reach the water together. This little hatchling must face the obstacles and predators all by himself. I almost teared up thinking about the odds as a wave swept in and flipped him on his back. Struggling against the pull of an outgoing wave, I started toward him. Halfway there, he righted himself and with his full one-ounce weight of determination headed out again.
I called out to him, "I christen you 'Caretta Jake', as he disappeared in the waves, remembering the 8 year old sea turtle enthusiast from Iowa I met last month. I figure if there's a chance a little boy from Iowa can grow up to be a marine biologist, then one last hatchling might make the odds too.