Home > Aquarium Blog > Talking About Urban Sea Turtles

Talking About Urban Sea Turtles

Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Turtles | Conservation | Guest Speaker Series | Volunteering

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Come learn about a local endangered species.

On August 8th my wife Pam and I will be part of a panel discussion at the Aquarium of the Pacific on a population of an endangered species that has chosen an improbable environmental niche in which to survive, the Green Sea Turtles of the San Gabriel River.

Not much is known about the Green Sea Turtles that take refuge in the warm water produced by power-plants on the river that provide electricity to parts of Los Angeles and Orange County. These turtles are more normally associated with the warmer waters of Mexico and Hawaii. Dan Lawson of NOAA, Pam and the Aquarium vet Lance Adams will talk about the recent research on these animals and the rehabilitation and tracking of stranded turtles. Many of my sea turtle images will be used in the talks and I’ll also be part of the panel discussion.

Since 2008 my wife Pam and I have been making regular treks to the San Gabriel River to gather information on these urban sea turtles. Pam taking notes on turtle sightings and incidental sightings of other wildlife while I photograph the brief instances that these sea turtles are at the surface. The Aquarium shares the data that we gather with the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

How hard is it to photograph an urban sea turtle in the murky waters of the San Gabriel River? Unlike the sea lions and sea otters that I work with at the Aquarium I can’t tell these wild sea turtles to come up exactly when and where I want them to. To give you an idea of the short window of opportunity I have while trying to photograph these turtles try this exercise. Place your camera in your right hand and hold it at your waist. Take a coin and place it on your left hand thumb in a flipping position. Flip the coin in the air while at the same time bringing your camera up to your eyes. Before the coin hits the ground you have to find it in your viewfinder, focus and shoot a picture of it. That’s about how much time you have to photograph a sea turtle when it surfaces, takes a breath and dives.

Fortunately I do have a way of increasing my chances of getting a good shot of a sea turtle. When photographing any animal it helps to know your subjects. When the Aquarium of the Pacific opened in 1998 one of my duties along with taking care of the pinniped was to help out in caring for the four green sea turtles then on exhibit. This experience helps me understand a little bit of turtle behavior and helps me predict when and where they may surface in the river. I basically figure out a spot in the river where there is a high probability of a sea turtle surfacing, the approximate time between surfacing and hold my camera in a ready position in anticipation. It seems to work.

Come on down to the Aquarium of the Pacific on Wednesday August 8th and learn more about these local urban sea turtles.

Talking About Urban Sea Turtles
The San Gabriel River where the urban sea turtles reside.  | Hugh Ryono
Talking About Urban Sea Turtles
It's not easy to photograph a sea turtle in the San Gabriel River. They are up for only a short time and only bring a fraction of their bodies above the water. Here two sea turtles briefly surface in the river.  | Hugh Ryono
Talking About Urban Sea Turtles
It's rare for a Green Sea Turtle to spend more than a second or two at the surface.  | Hugh Ryono
Talking About Urban Sea Turtles
Most of the time all you see of a sea turtle surfacing is their heads popping up briefly.  | Hugh Ryono

<< Back

Your Comments

Have Something to Say? Leave a Comment!

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

<< Back