Imagine that you are a leatherback turtle. Flippers? Check. Weird beak? Check. Big ol’ shell? You betcha. You’re swimming along, minding your own business, snacking on various squids and jellyfishes as you come across them. You find yourself in need of oxygen. No matter: a big lungful of air is just a short jaunt to the surface away. ‘Oh shit!’ you exclaim in turtlese. You have found yourself in the midst of the monstrous seas thrown up by the passage of a hurricane.
This was the (lightly dramatised) experience of a turtle named Isla, who was tracked by researchers as she attempted to navigate the outer edges of Hurricane Florence. Isla was tagged with a transmitter back in May of this year, as part of a project by Florida Leatherbacks Inc and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to monitor the feeding, travelling, and nesting habits of leatherbacks.
The researchers first noticed that she would potentially be in the path of the hurricane last week when she was around 40 kilometres off the coast of Virginia. They expected that she would attempt to move out to deeper waters to avoid the worst of the storm.
We are tracking a leatherback sea turtle as Hurricane Florence approaches. She is currently meandering 25 miles the coast of Virginia and she will be feeling the effects of the storm beginning tomorrow. Follow along. Be safe out there! #HurricaneFlorence #seaturtle @windyforecast pic.twitter.com/gPRXkpVHsz
— Florida Leatherbacks (@LeatherbacksFLA) September 12, 2018
Which she promptly did:
We are tracking a leatherback sea turtle as Hurricane Florence approaches. She appears to be responding to the much larger waves (~14ft) and has begun moving southeast into deeper water. Follow along and be safe today! #HurricaneFlorence @FishOceansCAN @stormhour @Tags4Wildlife pic.twitter.com/dmhNqn2fa1
— Florida Leatherbacks (@LeatherbacksFLA) September 13, 2018
Somewhat paradoxically, the search for deeper water ended up putting her even closer to the storm, putting her in even bigger surf as the hurricane made landfall:
Isla the #leatherback #seaturtle has stopped moving south and is now about 65 miles off Kitty Hawk North Carolina in 120 ft water. She will be experiencing high surf for the next 48 hours.
Please be safe out there! #HurricaneFlorence @windyforecast pic.twitter.com/BmikEwYLSr
— Florida Leatherbacks (@LeatherbacksFLA) September 14, 2018
Luckily, she managed to get out just fine. What an absolute legend.