Sea turtle watchers always lose a lot of sleep--happily.
Someone checks her and announces she's dropping her eggs. Once any sea turtle begins depositing her eggs, almost nothing deters her. A dog could be digging out the eggs as she was depositing them, but she still wouldn't stop. Once the instinctual programming begins, it seems unable to disengage.
I take a close look at my first leatherback, particularly her shell. Like many deep ocean inhabitants (leatherbacks can dive to an incredible 3,300 feet deep) the top half is dark, the bottom half is white.
She doesn't have a hard shell like other sea turtle species but one that's a more rubbery, leather-like carapace. Although she moves clumsily on land, she's obviously built for speed.
Her front flippers look longer and more powerful than on other turtles I've seen, and her shell has seven streamlined ridges (or keels) running its length to help her track through the water at high speeds.
This leatherback is large but not one of the giants. She weighs, I'm guessing, perhaps 600 pounds. And she grew to this impressive size mostly on a diet of jellyfish, something hard to believe.
A hungry leatherback can eat its weight in jellyfish daily, but to find them in that quantity means diving deep and grazing thousands of miles away from its nesting grounds; migrating seasonally to the north, as far as Labrador
With the eggs deposited, the leatherback begins covering them, throwing sand wildly behind and turning almost in a semi-circle during the 15-20 minute process; her shell and head are almost shrouded by sand when she finishes. Then it's time for her to return to the water.
With a great deal of huffing and puffing, she relies on her powerful front flippers to drag her heavy body across the beach. She seems worn out until the first waves splash against her face. Revitalized and in her element again, she quickly swims away.
We're lucky enough to spot two more turtles, including an obviously young mother who arrives close to sunrise, a late time for nesting, and who starts digging her nest well below the high tide line. That's a serious mistake since any eggs she lays will not incubate properly.
Fortunately, the sand is soft and her egg chamber caves in before she starts laying. She makes a half-hearted attempt to cover the hole and leaves, hopefully to do a better job next time.