Turtle Rodeo

This is the third in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer

When Grupo Tortuguero’s director invited me to spend a couple of weeks in their field station, he mentioned that it would be a good time to come because they would be doing turtle rodeos and I could ride along. Sure, I’m always up for an adventure and I love being on the water. I packed a few Dramamine and some extra sunscreen, unsure of what to expect. A turtle rodeo involves exactly that—rodeoing turtles. Two boats scan the water in search of sea turtles that have come to hang out on the surface. Once a turtle is spotted, the boat carefully approaches from behind while the um, turtle cowboy, prepares himself. As soon as we were close to a turtle, the “cowboy” (frequently Grupo Tortuguero’s Science and Fisheries Director, Hoyt Peckham) leaps into the water, grabs hold of the turtle’s shell and wrangles it to the boat. A few people help lift it onto the boat for measurements and assessment. The wrangling part is the most exciting, but what comes next is most important.

A small damp rag is placed over the turtle’s face to help keep it calm. Hoyt and his team measure, weigh and tag the turtle. Then they remove barnacles from the turtle’s shell that, although natural, can harm the turtle by changing its hydrodynamics and causing harm to the shell. A small sample of skin and shell is taken so that the scientists can analyze isotopes to better understand the turtle’s diet. The turtle is then gently released and continues its day unharmed. The actual “rodeoing” part is quite challenging because the turtle is strong and frequently dives under the water. For that reason, my chance to “rodeo” came during the release of a turtle. I jumped into the water so that Hoyt and his team could pass me the turtle. I held onto it for a moment, then gently released it so that it could glide under the water. Yes, it was as fun and magical as you’d imagine.

Data from the turtle rodeos are used to help us better understand the turtle’s habitat needs and informs conservation efforts. A big thank you to Grupo Tortuguero for letting me come along on the rodeo!


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