Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tales (tails?) from the seashore, part 1

You know you’re a hopeless animal geek when, on a beach vacation in paradise, you STILL manage to spend your time enthralled with the local fauna.

I spent the last week at Kizingo, an indescribably gorgeous resort on the Kenyan coast. My friend Sarah works there, and she invited me to come forget about animals for a bit. Somehow, we still ended up with some amazing critter encounters.
Chapter 1:

“Hello…Kate?” I woke up to someone calling my name. I groggily determined that it was WAY before my morning wake-up call, when fresh coffee would miraculously appear on my verandah. In fact, it was just after 4am.

As visions of horrible family emergencies swept through my mind and my body began to enter total panic mode, Sarah’s voice whispered through my window, “There’s a sea turtle laying eggs out here. Would you like to watch?”

Um…YES. Yes, I would.

Since Kizingo is right on the beach, I assumed we’d just saunter onto the sand and there would be the miracle of life, happening right in front of my adorable thatched hut. However, I suppose you’ve got to work a bit to witness such a miracle, since this particular turtle had chosen a lovely little spot waaaaaay down the beach. After a sweat-inducing half-hour power walk, we arrived. The turtle was several feet above the high-tide line, digging furiously into the sand.

Now, I knew green turtles were large, but this thing was huge. Like growth-hormone-fed, bad-horror-movie enormous. She was over three feet long and must have weighed several hundred pounds. Louis (one of Kizingo’s owners and the resident sea turtle expert) said she wasn’t much above average, but I certainly hadn't been expecting something outweighing a linebacker.

Not long after we arrived, she finished digging and started depositing her eggs into the freshly-dug nest. At this point in the process, laying females aren’t disturbed by human presence, so we could get up-close and personal. Since she was positioned over the hole, we couldn’t actually see the eggs, but Louis estimated that she likely laid over 80.

Then, the covering process began. She began flinging large amounts of sand over her back, onto her head, into onlookers’ eyes, and everywhere else within a few meters. I don’t know if this turtle had particularly poor coordination, or if evolution just hasn’t been kind to sea turtles in the sand-flinging department, but it seemed like a pretty inefficient process. I guess it’s all about tradeoffs; any animal that can outswim a fishing trawler probably won’t be particularly adept at moving large amounts of sand.

The female was finally satisfied with her nest, but by this time she had actually dug herself into a sand dune. Once she’d managed to excavate herself and turn around, she slid - surprisingly nimbly - down the shore and into the sea. The waves knocked her back a few times, then she submerged gracefully and was gone.

That was SO worth waking up early for.

At 4am, I didn't really have the presence of mind to bring a camera along. Luckily, someone else was better prepared. If these photos are yours, let me know and I'll give you photo credit!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Way cool!! I'd wake up early and walk a mile to experience something like this :>)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science