A loggerhead turtle surfaces with the object of its affection, an underwater glider that collects data for researchers at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Photo by Eric Bowles www.bowlesimages.com
Theirs was a tale of love at sea not meant to be.
Skidaway Institute researchers discovered the pair on Valentine’s Day at the edge of the continental shelf off Myrtle Beach. He was a loggerhead sea turtle. She was an underwater robot.
“We first spotted something from a quarter mile or farther away,” said Skidaway’s Catherine Edwards, who approached with other researchers on the R.V. Savannah. “You’re supposed to just see yellow at the surface.” Instead there was also a four-foot-long dark spot. “It had been messing with the glider for some time,” Edwards said. “(The glider) wasn’t going where it was supposed to. It was responding sluggishly to scientist’s directions.”
Edwards, a physicist studying the coast’s phytoplankton blooms, said she didn’t know the turtle’s intentions. But Mark Dodd, a sea turtle researcher with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is pretty sure he does. “The only reason I can think of for a turtle that size to climb on anything is to mate,” Dodd said.
And why would it mate with something that looks more like a tiny airplane than a turtle? Well, maybe male turtles aren’t too choosy. Dodd pointed out that Cayman Island turtle hunters traditionally used wooden decoys to capture adult male green turtles. Those decoys weren’t very realistic either.
Then again, maybe the sleek yellow glider is even more attractive than your average 250-pound female loggerhead, Dodd suggested. “My technicians think that the glider looks like a ‘supermodel’ version of a loggerhead,” he said.