Love is in the… water

By Conservancy Research Manager Dr. Jeff Schmid

It appears the 2017 loggerhead turtle nesting season in Southwest Florida is starting off with a bang. A number of large loggerheads were observed during a late-April trip to the Ten Thousand Islands to collect data on Kemp’s ridley turtle sex ratios. In fact, more loggerheads than ridleys were sighted during the week-long excursion in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. On one particular day, an adult male loggerhead was “accidentally” captured when setting the net on a much smaller ridley. Unlike the photo below, we did not attempt to haul the big boy aboard, choosing instead to release him boat-side and focus our efforts on the captured ridley. The day before our 2-man crew had wrestled an 82 cm (32 in.) presumably female loggerhead into the boat and our backs were still aching.

An adult male loggerhead (note the long tail) captured in the Ten Thousand Islands circa 2001. Photo: Wayne Witzell

A few hours later, I sighted a distant loggerhead surfacing off Turtle Key, appropriately enough. The large orange head stuck out of the water a number of times followed by some unusual commotion in the water. We idled the research vessel over to investigate and happened upon a mating pair of loggerheads. Could it be the male we captured earlier had hooked up with the presumed female we caught the day before in the same area? As we continued our inquisitive viewing of the conjoined pair, it became apparent that another turtle suitor was trying to get in on the action.

In the video below, the third wheel can be seen surfacing next to the pair and, when he approached, the mounted male would sometimes snap at the interloper with his immense beak. Similarly, the attendant male appeared to be nipping at the flippers of the other in an attempt to dislodge the nuptial embrace. The female soon tired of the male shenanigans and retreated below the surface. With the show over, we continued our pursuit of the little ridleys inhabiting these coastal waters.

Our studies are funded in part by grants awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program which is supported by proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at Research activities are conducted under NMFS permit #13544 and FFWCC permit #136.