Every once in a while you see an adult sea turtle with missing limbs. This can be due to several reasons: it may be that the turtle had a close encounter with a shark; it may be that a motorboat inadvertently struck the turtle; or it may be that the turtle was born with a missing limb.
Last night I saw such a turtle. I was patrolling a beach on the east coast of the island when I came across an interesting asymmetrical turtle track. I carefully followed the track and found a turtle that was missing a back flipper. She was trying to dig an egg chamber to lay her eggs.
What is very curious is that the turtle still went through all of the regular nesting motions and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she had a missing flipper. She dug with her flipper, scooped some sand up, removed it from the nest cavity, and then shifted her body to dig with her missing flipper. Of course she could not dig with her missing flipper but still went through the ghost motions before shifting her body again and digging with her flipper. After several minutes the turtle decided to give up on this egg chamber as she judged it was not going well enough.
Luckily, the turtle decided to try to dig a new nest further up the beach. I discretely followed her and opted to help her out this time: as the turtle was digging, every time she shifted her body and tried to dig with her missing limb, I would reach in the nest cavity and scoop out some sand for her. Together we built a nice egg chamber and the turtle seemed pleased as she resolved to lay her eggs! She lay close to 80 eggs that all fit nicely in our egg chamber. After covering up her nest and camouflaging the nesting area, I watched her return to the sea. Due to her missing limb, she walked a little bit sideways like a crab.
This particular turtle had been tagged earlier this season and was spotted nesting twice already. I imagine that the other rangers that saw her nest also gave her a helping hand when she was digging!