Rare turtle egg nest found in Ocean City Loggerheads uncommon in Maryland

June 16, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer Staff writer Audrey Haar in Ocean City contributed to this article.

In some editions yesterday, an article about loggerhead turtle eggs failed to say that Irvin Ailes is a wildlife biologist at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

The Sun regrets the errors.

An Ocean City visitor strolling along one of the beach's busiest sections Monday discovered what scientists believe to be a rare nest of Atlantic loggerhead turtle eggs.

Yesterday marine biologists delicately removed 21 of the eggs, which resemble small, cream-colored pingpong balls, from the sandy nest and transported them to the less crowded -- and safer -- Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Eleven other eggs were broken.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Finding loggerhead eggs in Maryland is uncommon because the female turtles prefer to make their nests on beaches along the southernmost United States, according to Dr. Jack Musick, a biologist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

"It's unusual," Dr. Musick said, "for them to nest that far northward. That's quite rare."

Dr. Musick said most loggerheads nest along the Florida coast because the turtles thrive better in the warm waters of the nearby Gulf Stream. Some nests are spotted on Virginia beaches each year, he said, and one nest was discovered in New Jersey in the early 1980s.

The Ocean City beach-goer spotted the nest while walking in the sand not far from the resort's seaside amusement pier and Somerset Street late Monday afternoon and immediately notified life guards, who contacted the National Aquarium in Baltimore. In the meantime, members of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Ocean City stood vigil over the nest to make sure the eggs were not disturbed.

Dr. Musick said it is not unusual for turtles to nest on beaches filled with people. "Loggerheads roll onto busy beaches all the time," he said. "They tend to be put off by commotion, but it happens all the time in Florida."

David Schofield, the National Aquarium's chief mammalogist who examined the nest yesterday, said the eggs appeared to be those of a loggerhead turtle, although they were slightly smaller than usual.

Irvin Ailes, a wildlife biologist at the Chincoteague refuge, drove to Ocean City yesterday where he carefully placed the eggs in an ice chest filled with sand. Later, he said the eggs were transferred to a cylinder with a protective lid and buried at the refuge.

He said the eggs will be monitored and if they hatch in about 60 days, the baby turtles will be taken to Back Bay south of Virginia Beach, where they will have a better chance at surviving in the warmer waters there.

Female loggerheads normally lay nearly 100 eggs at a time and lay clutches about every two weeks during the June to August nesting period, Dr. Musick said.

Mr. Ailes said a depression in the Ocean City turtle nest may have been made by curious humans or when the female, possibly disturbed by someone on the beach, left the nest before a full clutch was laid.

The Atlantic loggerhead turtle, which can live to be more than 50 years old and weigh up to 200 pounds, is considered to be a threatened species under federal guidelines because its population is at risk from coastal development, offshore pollution and natural predators.

Marine scientists are unsure how many loggerhead turtles live in the western Atlantic Ocean because the sea creatures spend much of their time below the water's surface and are difficult to count, said Dr. C. Kenneth Dodd, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida.

Although as many as 12,000 loggerhead turtle nests have been counted in a single year in Florida, Dr. Dodd said it is very rare for loggerheads to lay eggs north of the Chesapeake Bay.

"The problem is that they have very little chance of surviving up there," he said.

"If they hatch, the turtles will head into the water and get swept north by currents. It's too far for them to make it out to the Gulf Stream."

"We never know if they survive because they never return to the beaches," Dr. Musick said.

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