A Turtle Story [& Video!]

Due to the current drought in the Northeast, the Ipswich River water levels have been getting lower and lower.  The waterfall stopped altogether over a month ago, making our house oddly silent.  Here’s 2 shots from previous posts showing what the river and waterfall outside our house normally looks like:

flower pots in yard overlooking the ipswich river, riverwalk, and ebsco        ipswich river dam / waterfall view from deck

And here’s what it looks like now – super low water levels & no waterfall:

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The fish ladder, which is directly behind our house, runs perpendicular to the dam.  You can see it behind Franc in this pic:

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Unfortunately, due to the low water levels, the fish ladder has been VERY affected.  Normal flow on the left [with an otter swimming up it!], and current flow [aka bone dry] on the right:

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Because of the falling water levels, turtles started getting trapped in the fish ladder at the end of July.  They were able to enter the fish ladder from the bottom and climb over the base of the slanted wooden baffles [which, during normal operation, create rapids down the center of the ladder and calmer water along the sides], but once they dropped into the spaces between baffles they’d get stuck like lobsters in a trap:

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On Sunday, July 31st, we noticed 4 little boys hanging out on the fish ladder [not unusual – it’s a beacon for adventurous kids], but as the day wore on and the sun started getting low, we saw one little boy was still out there.  He was kneeling on the cement and having a full conversation with something down in the fish ladder.  At first hubby & I were snickering, but then I started to listen and heard him ask a woman on the Riverwalk footbridge [which spans the River to the right of the ladder] if she could help him rescue a trapped snapping turtle.  She politely declined, but I threw my sneakers on and headed outside.  Hubby was like “you’re actually going out there?” and I was like “dude, there’s a turtle that needs help!”.  So hubby got his phone out and filmed the whole encounter through the window – LOL!

I have added captions because the audio is hard to hear, so make sure you click the CC icon in the lower right corner [if it’s not already highlighted with a red line under it]*:

It turns out the little boy had called the Ipswich Police, but I guess all officers were out on patrol and wouldn’t be able to get there right away, so they said they’d call Animal Control [who did show up, but not until 2 hours later, way after the turtle had been rescued].  What a smart and sweet little boy!!!  He had also knocked on our across-the-driveway neighbor’s door but she is older and wasn’t in a condition to help him.  He was trying to get help wherever he could, and no one would help him, so he was keeping the turtle company until help arrived.  So sweet!  I wish I knew who he was.  I’m just glad I was able to help him.  I told hubby the boy probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing the turtle was trapped – I wouldn’t have been able to, either.

The turtle I rescued was mid-sized for a snapper, probably ⅔ the size of this one:

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It had been in the fish ladder a while so it wasn’t as aggressive as it could have been, but it still scared the bejesus out of me when it sucked it’s neck in then slammed it out, hissing and snapping at my face!  Ornery little buggers!  But if you pick them up on either sides of their shell, making sure you’re centered over their body, you should be fine.  They’ll try to hiss and bite, and also claw you with all 4 feet, and they’re much stronger than they look, so hold on TIGHT!  But I’ve picked up many and never had an issue.

The following night an injured Mallard duck found her way into the fish ladder – 2 teenagers found her and were trying to get her out, but weren’t able to [I think they were scaring her more than anything, but their hearts were in the right place].  They called the police, and both the police and Animal Control showed up and got the duck out.  I didn’t participate in that effort, but I should have…  As soon as she was released from the fish ladder her mate, who had been waiting and calling for her, raced over and they swam downriver together.  I think her wing was bent, but the Animal Control officer deemed her fit enough to release.

After that rescue, I started doing “turtle patrols” up and down the fish ladder each evening.  Apparently a few other people were, too.  I found this guy on August 4th – he was smaller than the first turtle but WAY more ornery:

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He hissed, snapped, tried to claw, tried to squirm.  It took over 5 minutes to even get him out of the water – every time I put my hand near him and touched his back he’d spin around and snap.  Yikes.  I hate jumping down into the fish ladder because it’s gross, slimy, smelly, and FULL of spider webs.  GROSS!  But saving turtles is more important.  But seriously.  Spider webs!:

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*SHUDDER*

3 days later, on August 7th, I rescued 1 super tiny snapper baby, a baby Painted turtle, and a juvenile Painted turtle – they didn’t do anything except hide in their shells:

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So cute!  Meanwhile I [and others] had been in contact with the Ipswich River Watershed Association to see about blocking off the fish ladder for the remainder of the drought.  The DPW came the morning after I rescued the baby turtles and put wooden barriers at the top and bottom of the ladder.  Phew!  I’ve done a few more patrols since, just in case, but found no more turtles.

* Don’t forget:  The camera adds 40 pounds *nods*

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12 Comments

  1. You two are good Samaritans. It is hard to help those guys because they would love to snap your finger in two while your try to offer them assistance. Something like cutting off your nose to spite their cause.

  2. A real animal fan !
    Liebe Grüsse

  3. I would not have known what to do or that it was even a problem. You are so smart and compassionate. Way to go! Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  4. Bravo for you and the kid! Love this story!

  5. Wow, good for you. That’s my girl, love Dad

  6. Good for you and everyone else who is concerned about the turtles, ducks, and whatever else is having a really difficult summer with almost no water in that river. I heard on ‘BZ (WBZ – Boston’s best radio station) that the Ipswich River supplies water to five (FIVE!) communities. I wonder how they’re doing? This drought is really scary and there’s no end in sight!

    • apparently a lot of the smaller tributaries up river are completely dried up, lots of dead fish, etc. it’s very sad! the canoe and kayak rental place up river that seth called said they’re currently closed b/c the water levels are too low for canoes.

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