Posted tagged ‘turtle’

HAWAII: The Grace of Sea Turtles

June 18, 2013

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of HaA Green Sea Turtle swims over a shallow coral reef using its powerful front legs for propulsion

Karen and I were snorkling in a coral reef area south of Kona, working hard to stay together despite all the distractions of colorful fish everywhere among coral canyons. When I looked toward her, I was astonished to see a Green Sea Turtle swimming right between Karen and me, about five feet away from each of us. I couldn’t shout with glee without drowning, so instead I took pictures as we swam parallel to the turtle through the tropical aqua sea. It was enchanting.

 The music for this video is from the song Silver Creek, by the German duo DOKAPI. More information and a link to their website is at the end of this article.

Pacific Green Sea Turtle and Snorkeler Swimming off the Big Isla

This was the third sea turtle I had seen on this trip. The day before, both of us had observed one basking on a narrow strip of sand beach, where it shared the space with scores of humans. It seemed content to be there, and even used its flippers to toss sand onto its back.

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

The endearing thing about sea turtles is their grace. Most of us humans are water nerds, graceless and gangly and splashing. In contrast, the sea turtle moves with the cadence of time itself. The swimming is slow and graceful, as if it got extra points for style and poetry of motion.

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

This swimming sea turtle was covered with green algae. It looked like it needed to go to one of the natural cleaning stations that certain fish have set up in the sea. These sea salons are known to turtles and fish as places where they can go for a good grooming to have parasites and algae removed and gobbled down by specialized species of fish.

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

Pacific Green Sea Turtle Swimming off the Big Island of Hawaii

In contrast, the Green Sea Turtle I had photographed several days before looked like it had just come out of the turtle wash and had been waxed afterward. There was not a speck of visible algae on it; in fact, each plate on its back sported lines of subtle color that looked for all the world like soft brushstrokes in a watercolor painting. Against the aqua color of the sea, it was stunning.

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

The Green Sea Turtle lives around the world in the tropics, and is endangered. It gets caught accidentally in nets and is killed for its meat and shell. Fortunately, in Hawai‘i the sea turtles are revered, and everyone is ecstatic to see them. They have special beaches where they go to lay eggs, and it would be wonderful to see the hatchlings emerging and heading for the sea, but that will have to wait for another trip.

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

Green Sea Turtle Swimming among Coral Reefs off Big Island of Ha

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date). 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.

Music for the video in this article was created by the German duo DOKAPI. It was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution–ShareAlike 2.5; go to opsound.org/info/license/ for more information. DOKAPI has a website at dokapi.de where you can find out more about their excellent music. Our video, Dream of the Sea Turtles, is available for use under the same terms of the ShareAlike 2.5 license. Contact us at lee@leerentz.com for information.

June 12, 2008 Prehistoric Moments with a Living Fossil

June 14, 2008

 

There are sights that take you back millions of years in a moment.  Today I was looking for photographs along a trail to Willow Falls in Willow River State Park near Hudson, Wisconsin.  When I walked around a bend, I saw a huge turtle in the trail.  I had not seen a Snapping Turtle so big since I worked at Beaver Lake Nature Center in upstate New York, and this was a monster.  The shell would have measured about a foot long, had I dared to lay a ruler along its back.  I didn’t, because these turtles have much quicker reflexes than you might think, and their bite is reputed to be able to remove a finger.  I’d rather not find out the hard way!  Female Snapping Turtles emerge from slow rivers and lakes in June to lay their eggs.  Cumbersome on land, a snapper lumbers along with difficulty until it finds just the right soft patch of earth to dig a hole for the eggs, which are roughly the size, shape, and color of ping pong balls.  The tail is about as long as the shell, and has big plates reminiscent of the Stegosaurus dinosaur.  The head is massive, and has patterns that probably act as underwater camouflage.   The claws are long and sharp–reminding me of bear claws–and are used for digging.

Fear necessitated longer lenses, so I photographed with a 100 mm macro lens (perhaps a bit too short for safety), a 24-105 mm zoom, and a 70-200 mm zoom with an extension tube to allow closer focusing.  This turtle stayed in one spot for nearly an hour, but then started moving up the trail, which gave me opportunities to photograph it in different light and with varied backgrounds.  I took a few pictures from above, to record the human perspective, but my most evocative pictures are those where I laid down on the ground, viewing the creature’s face from eye level.  I’m still dirty from head to toe as a result, but the photographs are good.  

There is one rule of wildlife photography that even a rule-breaker like me feels obliged to obey, and that is to get the creature’s eye in sharp focus, whether it is a reptile, mammal, bird, or insect.  Humans and many other species look at eyes as windows on the soul of intent (remember when President Bush looked into the eyes of Russian President Putin and proclaimed that “I looked the man in the eye … I was able to get a sense of his soul”), so a view of the eyes is crucial to our perceived relationship to another individual or an animal.  Turtle shells, mammal hair, bird feathers, and other details can be out of focus, but the photographer had better remember to get those eyes as sharp as possible!

A young family with four children came up to me while I was photographing; I explained what the Snapping Turtle was doing and suggested that they could safely walk around it at a distance of about five feet.  One little boy, perhaps seven years old, had big and fearful eyes.  He wouldn’t walk past the turtle until I and his Dad escorted him safely past.  He will remember that moment, and how his older brother said the turtle looked like a dinosaur.  The family had just seen another wonderful sight–a deer wading in the river, its summer coat beautifully lit by the low sun, eating water plants.  What a wonderful and evocative hike for these children!  [Please, parents, spend a great deal of quality time outdoors with your children and it will pay them back with a lifetime of love for their world].

I encountered a second Snapping Turtle as big as the first along the same trail.  It had just emerged from the river and was still glistening wet; it even still had a bloodsucker clinging to its shell.  There was a water weed draped over the shell that I knew would be unsightly in a photograph, so I approached the turtle from behind and pulled the weed off.  This turtle instantly reacted, turning around and lunging at my hand.  Fortunately I was quicker.  This turtle would not stand still for a portrait, so I grabbed a few shots before it galloped away (if you can imagine a big turtle galloping!) and splashed into the wetland pond across the trail.

Other prehistoric moments along the trail included hearing Gray Treefrogs warbling like birds in the trees and shrubs all around me–perhaps half-a-dozen at once.  And Bullfrogs rumbling with resonant tones.  And Green Frogs with their calls that naturalists describe as being like “plucked banjo strings.”  A Painted Turtle sunned its chilled body on a log.  A Great Egret waded patiently in the river shallows.  These species have all survived millions upon millions of years in strings of slow and endless evolution.  

Earlier in the day, I passed through some low hills in Wisconsin that have been mined for iron ore.  These remnant mountains and their ore deposits are said to be 2.5 billion years old–talk about a prehistoric moment!  But nothing brought home a link to the distant past as seeing that living fossil–the Snapping Turtle.

 

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.