Meet the Four-Legged Guardian of Rare Sea Turtle Nests

Loggerheads and Kemp’s ridley along with the other five species of turtles, come to lay their eggs on the beach of the Southern U.S. This usually happens from May to October.

Turtle lovers and volunteers search for their tracks in this time to enrich the data about these species and also to save their nests from possible predators. But these tracks are not always correct cause female turtles make false tracks and go back without laying any eggs.

So, it’s quite hard to actually guess where their potential nests could be. But a new study found that our four-legged canine friends can detect these nests faster and more correctly than human guesses.  According to a recent experiment published in PLOS ONE, a smell-detecting dog named Dory found the sea turtle locations more accurately.

The study leader Rebekah Lindborg says Dory and other scent-detecting sniffers can help scientists a lot when all sea turtle species are endangered in the U.S.

Competition On The Way

Dory, a two-year-old mix terrier was selected by a dog behaviorist and former police K9 handler Pepe Peruyero, who during his service time trained scent-detection dogs for more than 20 years. Lindborg teamed up with Peruyero for the project.

Dory was trained in a 50/50 square foot artificial beach to alert at the scent of “cloacal mucus”, a substance that is found in the freshly laid eggs of sea turtles.

A friendly competition was allowed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation at the team’s request. In Vero Beach, Florida two competing groups patrolled about five miles of shoreline in the peak nesting season in 2017 and 2018.

Sometimes it was Dory and Lindborg doing the patrol to mark the place of sea turtle eggs and sometimes it was a team of volunteers.

Dory’s Find

Dory surprisingly found 560 sea turtle nests of three species. The volunteer group found only 256. Though Dory worked more days than the two-legged human!

Dory was better than others at locating where to dig for eggs which reduced the overall length of patrol. Failed delivery for Dory was 5.7% while for human volunteers it was 14.8%.

Dory was specifically good at finding Loggerhead turtle nests, which was the sum of 80% of all nets found. Whereas it was hard for human volunteers to find the nests of Leatherback, an enormous reptile that can weigh up to at least 2,000 pounds. Nesting Leatherback eggs were difficult to find as their nesting erupts a big chunk of an area.

An Addition In The Search

Dory is the first-ever example of dogs surpassing humans in sea turtle monitoring. Before her, there were other dogs like Cairn Terrier, and Ridley Ranger, and Dory’s performance validates their hard work.

Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, says human volunteers can also locate nests accurately too, if they had been through months of training like Dory.

However, because of Dory’s success some people may want to take her as a replacement for humans, but no. Our four-legged friends are more of an addition in this case.

Where Do Sea Turtles Nest?

Sea turtles tend to move to their birthplace during their nesting time or when they are ready to lay eggs. After successful mating, the mother waits for the incubation period and searches for suitable places to nest on sandy beaches.

Most sea turtles tend to nest in a community. Florida, Key West, and Rancho Nuevo are some of the largest sea turtle nesting’s. These places are also great for scientists to observe these turtles and their behaviors. If you want to learn more about sea turtles and their nest, check out this article, Sea Turtle Nests & What You Need To Know.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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