Friday, August 24, 2007

"Saga of the Sea Turtle"

This morning, for the second year in a row, I was privileged to observe Loggerhead sea turtles hatching on Pensacola Beach. In this photo, the first tiny heads emerge from the sand.

Climbing atop one another, the hatchlings push their way up and out of the sand. Research indicates that the sex of the embryo may be determined by the temperature of the nest. "Lower nest temperatures produce more males; higher temperatures produce more females." That must mean this year we had a record number of female hatchlings!

The Loggerhead sea turtles are on the Endangered and Threatened Species list.

Just think of all the jellyfish these little turtles will eat in their lifetime.

"Head for the water, guys!"

This nest had been relocated by Gulf Islands National Seashore Bio-Techs and volunteers in order to keep it safe. Does this photo bring to mind the old commercial about herding cats?

Hatchlings use a small, temporary egg tooth to break their shell.

A Loggerhead hatchling weighs about one ounce when it emerges from the shell.

Kirsten Dahlin, a Gulf Island National Seashore Bio-Tech, and volunteer Monica Cain, SCA, attend the hatchings.

After the hatchlings made their way to the surface, Kirsten and Monica began to carefully scoop sand back, searching for stragglers. Then they proceeded to recover broken egg shells and any unhatched eggs.

Ahhh, they found a straggler and stopped to allow him to make his way to the surface.

Monica begins the process of shell recovery and discovers one more hatchling almost 15 inches down!

Since the hatching took place during the day (an unusual occurrence), the tiny sea turtles were confined to a cooler with sand where they will be allowed to continue "nesting" throughout today. They will be released in the Gulf of Mexico tonight. Hopefully that will reduce their mortality rate from predators such as birds.

Sea turtle eggs look very much like a ping-pong ball, but are rubbery to the touch. Bio-Techs retrieve the eggs so they can be tested to determine why they did not hatch. Factors may include lack of fertilization, developmental problems, or high levels of pollutants.

Monica digs approximately 18 to 20 inches down to recover all the eggs or shells.

[Postscript: I recently obtained a book, "Saga of the Sea Turtle" by Edison "Blackie" Cruz, Sr. which was published in 1985. It was written by a young man who lived in Key West, Florida in the early 1900's and became fascinated with sea turtles at an early age. At 14, due to hard times and very little money coming into the household, he was allowed to sign on with a fishing boat. From that point forward the book is his journal of trips at sea, his search for sea turtles, and what he called "practical research" with Loggerheads.

I plan to donate the book to the Gulf Breeze Library next week, so it will be available to anyone who would be interested in reading it. I also have contact information for the author's grandson, who has a small supply of the 300 page, self-published book should someone be interested in purchasing a copy of it.]


Anonymous said...

This is some pretty cool stuff~

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is amazing, thank you!

Unknown said...

Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

How does one get so lucky as to witness hathchings two years in a row?

Annie Patterson said...

Wowwowowow! Thanks for posting these pictures,D.J., they are fabulous.
:) :)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how awesome our beach is. Thanks for documenting mother nature at work. I have always wanted to see the turtles hatch.
Tonight was an awesome night for the turtles to find there way home. The moon on the water was just perfect.

Turtle Girl said...

Hi --

Thanks for sharing your picures and turtle facts with everyone! We were really happy to have a day time nest so that beach residents and guests could observe these guys struggling to make their way out of that deep hole in the sand. All of them made it safely to the sea by about 9 that night.

Let's hope you get to see a third nest hatch next year!

Kirsten Dahlen, M.Sc.
Biological Technician
Gulf Islands National Seashore

Unknown said...

I need the birth and death years of "Blackie Cruz". Can someone find those for me? Thanks!

Charles LeBuff

Barrier Island Girl said...


That's pretty weird timing! Blackie's grandson (Mike) and his wife were just here visiting us! In fact they left yesterday morning.

I won't be able to get in contact with them until next week - they are traveling, but Blackie's real name was Edison Cruz Sr. and according to public records (and his book) he was born in 1904. He died in 1990. His book, "Saga of the Sea Turtle" was published five years before he passed away Are you related?


Barrier Island Girl said...

By the way, Charles, if you would like to speak with Blackie's grandson, e-mail me at and I will put you in contact with him when he and his wife return home. They now live in Tennessee.