NATURE NICHE: Leatherback Turtle a rare sighting

Special to the Parade

Nature Niche pic-3-28-13For years I have shared stories of rare bird sightings here in the Valley. In the birding world if you see a very rare bird, a photo is a must to believe it. Of course it helps if everyone else gets to see it, too.

That is the fun part, to share it and see those happy looks on every face that see it. And some rare birds just fly off not to be shared. So the other day on the bay, when I saw something very strange off in the distance near the coast guard station, I did something I never do, I completely ignored our dolphins playing around us, showing us faces, rolling over each other, and focused everyone on my boat at the water in the distance.

I saw a very large dark object rise up out of the water three times. I had my camera ready which was already full of Facebook dolphin photos. My mind was in a whirl. Manatee? Huge turtle? Everyone helped me watch. This thing was amazing and I didn’t know what it was. We all watched, and I was in neutral just standing there waiting as we drifted slowly towards the area. I suggested we watch between the boat and that piling out there. Then low and behold this massive creature rose out of the water right in front of us, just 20 feet in front of the bow; a huge head and a body that would fill the front half of my boat. Click, click, click… it all happened so fast. Everyone saw him and we were stunned. We were in disbelief.

It was a huge leatherback turtle – in the bay, right by the coast guard station. All I can figure is that he was a young turtle that followed all the huge Portuguese man o wars in and was having a feast. The dolphins all came around us again right after that as if to say, “Wow, you saw him too.” I saw the massive head rise out of the water one more time close to the entrance to Sea Ranch, and that was it. I had to get back for another trip, and as we all looked at each other in total awe, I prayed that I was able to capture that moment with my camera to document this rare event. So when I got home later that evening and my photos were downloading, the first one was blurry, the second one a pathetic blur but recognizably a leatherback with most of his head out of the water, and then my third click captured him sinking back into the water, blurry too but definitely a documenting photo. So here it is, as many of you have already seen this on my Facebook, the most rare of rare sightings, and not a bird, a leatherback sea turtle in the Laguna Madre Bay – only the second for me to see. We had one beached in gill net years ago and he was brought in, quickly re-hydrated by the zoo vet and then Coast Guard came, eight of them on each side to lift it, and took it offshore on their boat to release it.

I am still on cloud nine! What a nature niche.

Also, bird migration has started. Please help with this drought as they need water. For a tour with me and dolphin dog Rozzi, call (956) 299-1957.

Editor’s Note: Scarlet Colley is the director of the Sea Life and Nature Center located on 110 N. Garcia St. in Port Isabel. Call (956) 299-1957 or visit Scarlet on Facebook at Dolphinwhisper.

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