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Conservation | Volunteering | Birds | Turtles

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It’s been a little over a month now since my wife Pam and I started observing the wild green sea turtle colony of the San Gabriel River (see my previous blog Improbable Residents). In that time we’ve gain a bit of familiarity with the “Greenies” and the other critters sharing this river environmental niche.

To make it easier for Pam and I to categorize our sightings, we’ve separated the turtles into three different sized—Small, Medium and Large. We’ve been analyzing our images of the turtles trying to make out individuals.

The small turtles that I refer to as the “Squirt Heads” were next to impossible to make out any individual characteristics. They all had the tiny heads that reminded you of the little turtle from Finding Nemo. The medium turtles were also hard to distinguish individually.

However we were able to recognize at least two of the large size sea turtles in the river. One is “Over-Bite”, a large turtle whose upper jaw slightly extends further than his lower jaw.

The other that we call “Dude” is the largest sea turtle that we’ve seen in the river and could be several decades old as he has a shell that’s over three feet long and has massive flippers. “Dude” actually reminds me of a big cranky old green sea turtle that I once worked with at the Aquarium several years ago named Leo (short for Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Movie). Occasionally when “Dude” surfaces, he will squirt water from his nostrils. I first observed this turtle behavior from Leo and at the time thought it was kind of cool how he was imitating a baleen whale blow (both nostrils blowing water out at the same time).

While the small and medium turtle tended to stay farther away from the banks, Dude and Over-Bite sometimes came within a few feet of shore during high tide making for an easier observation.

There are other critters in this river environment that we’ve come to know. There are at least two coyotes that hang out along the river bank. One that we call “White-Tip” has a unique white tipped tail and the other that we call the “Tall-Guy” has noticeably long legs for a coyote. We’ve usually see them in the early morning returning from the river banks heading off into the old oil fields.

Dozens of Cormorants use the suspension cables of the fuel oil pipeline river overpass as a convenient place to rest and dry their feathers. In the early morning the waters below the resting cormorants is quite serene, however later after the birds return from breakfast with full bellies, the river below them becomes quite active as bird droppings start splattering onto the surface in an almost rain-like fashion. It was under this rain of poop that I watched one of the larger turtles surface and almost get splattered upon.

This area that runs from this fuel oil pipeline to the last power station outflow before the 7th Street Bridge is the farthest up the river that Pam and I have observed sea turtles.

In the future, I plan on taking a walk above the 7th Street Bridge just to see what critters can be observed up river from the warm water outflows.

We have received calls from many people who would like to help the Aquarium with the sea turtle monitoring program, and we are extremely grateful. We ask that everyone interested keep an eye on our website and this blog as we will be launching a web portal with information and ways to sign up soon.

The San Gabriel River home of the sea turtles.  | Hugh Ryono
"White-Tip" the coyote navigates down the levy and under a fence next to the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
The fuel oil pipeline that runs over the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
You really don't want to be underneath the pipeline after these cormorants have had breakfast.  | Hugh Ryono

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MarineDepot's avatar


Tuesday, September 23, 2008 12:29 PM

Nice detailed update. Keep us posted.

Hugh's avatar


Tuesday, September 23, 2008 12:56 PM

I’m finding that observing these sea turtles and the wildlife around them is just as interesting as the whale research observations that I do each winter.

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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