How do you count more than 60,000 sea turtles?

More than 64,000 endangered sea turtles are gathered in the world's largest nesting area near Raine Island, Australia, but who's counting? The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, that's who. Their researchers used harmless white paint to mark around 2,000 turtles and then flew a drone overhead. By determining the ratio of marked to unmarked turtles, they could then accurately estimate the total population. From BarrierReef.org:

“We’re taking action to improve and rebuild the island’s nesting beaches and building fences to prevent turtle deaths, all working to strengthen the island’s resilience and ensure the survival of our northern green turtles and many other species," [said Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden...]

The research paper’s lead author Dr Andrew Dunstan from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science is excited to share his work.

“Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult,” Dr Dunstan said.

“Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored[...]”

“In the future, we will be able to automate these counts from video footage using artificial intelligence so the computer does the counting for us.”

"Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mark-resight nesting population estimation of adult female green sea turtles at Raine Island" (PLOS ONE) Read the rest

Flying turtle smashes through Georgia driver's windshield

Latonya Lark wrote on Facebook:

My prior delimer... Mr Turtle was found at fault but he did not have insurance. He got escorted to the Wildlife reserve, I got stuck with the bill. So beware Savannah of flying turtle on the Truman Parkway. My brother almost lost his head. Besides my sugar going off the roof.. I am fine but disturbed..

The Savannah NBC affiliate has some more details on the incident, which took place on Harry S. Truman Parkway near Montgomery Cross Road in Savannah. It's not clear how or why this turtle was airborne; and unfortunately, we won't have any answers soon — the turtle lost a leg in the incident, and passed away during treatment at Savannah Animal Care.

Turtle smashes through Savannah driver’s windshield on Truman Parkway [Ashley Williams / WSAV] Read the rest

Patent for a toy turtle operated by houseflies

In 1926, Oscar Williams of San Diego, California was granted a patent on a toy turtle operated by houseflies buzzing around inside. From patent number US1591905A, "Artificial Animal":

My invention relates to artificial animals with movable limbs and members operated by natural animals or insects and the objects of my invention are: First, to provide an animal of this class which in appearance resembles a natural animal and in which the limbs or members are movable substantially as those of the natural animal; second, to provide an animal of this class in which the limbs and members are pivotally, reliably and reciprocally mounted in the body thereof to obtain a variety of motion of said limbs and members; third, to provide an animal of this class in which the interior of the body portion or the parts containing movable members are made hollow so as to provide ample space for the movement and operation of the natural animals or insects placed within said hollow portion; fourth, to provide an animal of this class in which means are provided to keep the natural animal or insect in the interior thereof in motion and thus provide continuous movement of the said limbs or members; fifth, to provide an animal of this class with a convenient and novel means of entrance and exit of said natural animals or insects; sixth, to provide an animal of this class which is .novelly constructed and seventh, to provide an animal of this class which is very simple and economical of construction, durable, and which will not readily deteriorate or get out of order.

Read the rest

Here are a whole bunch of little albino turtles

I like these albino turtles. Read the rest

Injured turtle outfitted with Lego wheelchair

Veterinarians at the Maryland Zoo outfitted an injured Eastern turtle with a wheelchair built from Lego. An employee of the zoo found the turtle whose shell had been injured in a nearby park.

“He had multiple fractures on his plastron, the bottom part of his shell. Because of the unique placement of the fractures, we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,” said Ellen Bronson, the zoo's sensior director of animal health.

From Local21News:

Zoo officials say there aren’t devices small enough for turtles to use so they got creative and drew sketches of a customized wheelchair. The sketches were then sent to a friend, who is also a LEGO enthusiast.

“The sketches proved to be a success and the turtle received his very own multi-colored LEGO brick wheelchair just a few weeks after surgery. The turtle is roughly the size of a grapefruit. The small LEGO frame surrounds his shell and sits on four LEGO wheels,” said Garrett Fraess, veterinary extern at the zoo.

Read the rest

Police discover over 10,000 endangered tortoises jammed into one small house

An overwhelming stench of poop and urine led authorities to check out what was going on in an unassuming two-story house in Toliara, Madagascar. When they opened the front door, they were shocked to find the house full of endangered tortoises--10,068, to be exact. According to Soary Randrianjafizanaka, a representative from Madagascar's environmental protection agency, so many of the poor little critters were jammed into the house that they literally had no room to move.

From National Geographic:

In total the house contained 9,888 live radiated tortoises, a rare species found only in Madagascar—and 180 dead ones. Randrianjafizanaka helped count them as rescuers loaded them onto six trucks that made several trips to Le Village Des Tortues (Turtle Village in French), a private wildlife rehabilitation facility in Ifaty, 18 miles north of Toliara. It took until early the following morning to transfer all the tortoises to the rescue center.

The majority of the turtles taken to the rehabilitation facility are doing well, now that they've been cleaned up, moved into more suitable quarters, and provided with veterinary care. Unfortunately, close to 600 of the turtles have died since being removed from the house, due to dehydration or infection--the result of their long neglect.

With a shrinking population of around three million of the reptiles, the trade of radiated turtles, each of which can have shells up to 16 inches across and weigh as much as 35 pounds, is illegal in 182 countries. That makes the turtles an attractive product for blackmarket traders operating out of Madagascar, to export to shady buyers around the world. Read the rest

The century-long fight over how turtles evolved to have shells

Turtles were at the center of a hundred-year evolutionary controversy since the 1887 discovery of a Proganochelys fossil in Germany. AS PBS Eons explains, the question of how turtles got their shells led scientists "to rethink the entire history of reptile evolution." Read the rest

Vet fixes wild turtle's broken shell, finds it in the woods years later

Years ago, someone found a turtle hit by a car and brought it to Hocking Hills Animal Clinic, where they applied a fiberglass shell and released it in the wood. Years later, guess who the vet found while walking in the woods? Read the rest

There are only three of these turtles left

This is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, one of the most endangered species on Earth. There are two at China's Suzhou Zoo and one in the wild in Vietnam's lake Dong Mo. Conservationists really need to find a fourth to aid their efforts to rebuild the species. National Geographic spoke with Aimin Wang, director of the China division of the Wildlife Conservation Society, about the group's efforts to find another elusive Yangtze turtle:

What would it mean for the species if one were to be found?

It increases our opportunity [for successful breeding] quite a bit. The male in China is quite old, but the female is young. The turtles are bred using artificial insemination. The last four attempts with the breeding pair in China were unsuccessful. We just tried for a fifth time and got high-quality sperm. We won't know for another month if our results were successful.

Why are these turtles so important to save?

This is a flagship species, and for biodiversity, they're quite important. They serve as an important [indicator of environmental health]. If we can help them survive, that means our ecological system is quite good. If they disappear, that means our ecological system is quite bad.

Read the rest

Robot riding on turtle's back steers it with "carrot-on-a-stick" technique

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology attached small robots to the back of turtles and enabled the machine to steer the animal by delivering it snacks. Eventually, they hope to use similar systems to control fish and birds. The technology could lead to parasitic robot/animal "teams" for surveillance, exploration, and disaster response. From New Scientist:

The robots comprised a processor, a frame that stuck out in front of the turtle’s head holding five red LEDs spaced apart, and a food-ejecting tube. They then had to ride their turtle through five checkpoints in a tank filled with water...

The turtles were first conditioned to associate a lit-up LED with food. The robot then simply guided it using the LEDs and fed it snacks as a reward for going in the right direction. Using this process, five robot-turtle pairs successfully completed the course, and each sped up with practice.

"Parasitic Robot System for Waypoint Navigation of Turtle" (Journal of Bionic Engineering)

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Turtle vs. Herd of Cows

Who would win in a fight between a turtle-sized turtle and a dozen cow-sized-cows? [via r/funny.] Read the rest

The inside of a Leatherback Turtle's mouth

It's not entirely clear where this image originates from, but the nightmarish interior of the Leatherback Turtle's mouth is attested to by many other ones just like it. Hey, at least it doesn't pee through its mouth.

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Man arrested with 51 turtles in his pants

Kai Xu was arrested attempting to cross into Canada from Detroit, Michigan with 51 live turtles down his pants, mostly strapped to his legs. He was apparently smuggling the turtles he had bought to resell outside the US at much higher prices. From the Associated Press:

The investigation had started after a courier company in Detroit tipped the wildlife service to a package that had been shipped from Alabama addressed to Xu.

According to the court documents, agents watched as Xu allegedly opened various boxes in the rear of his SUV, took out several round clear plastic containers, and placed their contents into plastic baggies. He also had packaging tape and scissors.

“Special Agent (James) Fuller noticed irregularly shaped bulges under Xu’s sweatpants on both his legs,” the document states.

Read the rest

Florida man dislikes sea turtles, shoots a volunteer protecting their nest

A 72-year-old Marine veteran who volunteered to protect a sea turtle nest got beaten and shot in the butt for his troubles. Turtle-hater Michael Q. McAuliffe was arrested. Read the rest

Sea Turtle's eye-view of the Great Barrier Reef

This fantastic video from the World Wildlife Fund in Australia is a turtle’s eye view of the The Great Barrier Reef. The sensitive ecological zone is home to almost 6,000 species.

To find out more about the level of pollution affecting turtles within the Great Barrier Reef, WWF is working on innovative project in Queensland with the support of our partners Banrock Station Wines Environmental Trust, James Cook University, The University of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, State and Commonwealth government agencies, Indigenous rangers and local community groups.

As part of that project, the opportunity arose to very carefully fit a small GoPro camera to a turtle, to better understand the post-release behaviour of tagged green turtles. The result is this amazing video.

This week, the World Heritage Committee will vote whether to keep a strong watch over Australia until the health of the Great Barrier Reef. The decision is critical to the future protection of the Reef.

Video Link

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Communist turtles got to moon first

Alexis Madrigal writes: "The Soviet Zond 5 sent the animals around the moon -- although not into lunar orbit -- during a mission in the middle of September, 1968. The unmanned craft then returned to Earth and splashed down in the Indian Ocean, after which the Russians recovered the craft." The turtles were fine. Read the rest

Some thoughts on subspecies and the death of Lonesome George

The giant tortoise is dead, long live the giant tortoise. (Via Brian Switek) Read the rest

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