In partnership with the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, the Canadian Wildlife Federation tagged four Leatherback Sea Turtles and followed their remarkable journey from the Atlantic Coast to their overwintering waters in the south. As both Canadian and international animals, Leatherback Sea Turtles are a great reminder of our shared wildlife heritage. A great reminder, indeed for World Wildlife Day.
While we do our utmost in Canada to take great care of our Leatherbacks during the summer and early fall when they are present in Canadian waters, we know that soon enough they will be drawn to their southern nesting and overwintering grounds. To ensure they are protected, we have to share the duty with many other countries.
“The Great Canadian Turtle Race is a race that takes place every year, whether we are able to follow it or not,” says Sean Brillant, Manager of Marine Programs at the Canadian Wildlife Federation. “For Leartherback Sea Turtles, this gruelling trek is simply called life. For us, it is an incredible phenomenon. The opportunity to follow Leatherbacks to their southern grounds gives us a unique glimpse into a large part of our world that is often far beyond our understanding, but which we can affect in large and harmful ways.”
With origins from Trinidad and Florida, the four turtles tracked for the Great Canadian Turtle Race have kept us on our toes. In the span of two weeks, three of the turtles’ satellite tags stopped working. A number of terrible events might have caused this to happen – the turtles may have been entangled or become involved with a ship strike – however, we know what most likely happened is that their satellite tags “biofouled.” Biofouling is when organisms like algae and barnacles grow on the tag and prevent it from working properly. The good news is we believe we’ll see these majestic turtles again when their tags start transmitting again (when presumably the organisms colonizing the tag fall or are knocked off). Leatherback conservationists will be scouring the beaches in the hopes of finding these great reptiles and we are hopeful that they will track down our turtles.
The remaining contender, and winner of the 2015/16 Great Canadian Turtle Race, Agile Abigail has traveled the furthest of our turtles, some 4,995 kilometres to her Florida nesting grounds. Just last year, Abigail made this same journey and climbed onto the beach to nest. As Leatherbacks usually only nest every two or three years, she is not predicted to nest again in 2016, however, this may indicate that she will make her journey back home to Canada a little earlier this year.
Canadian Wildlife Federation and Canadian Sea Turtle Network staff will continue to track these beloved creatures and you can learn more about their whereabouts and wellbeing at Turtlerace.ca.