It was Wednesday July 13th, just after 10:00 in the morning. Although it was early, the temperature was already surpassing 85℉, and the water temperature was climbing as well. Thunderstorms were in the forecast for later in the afternoon, making the mission from the day even more urgent. As each crew member trekked down the Riverwalk to Warner Dam, the sun hid behind clouds and song sparrows called. Even though the sun was nearly hidden, turtles could be seen basking on the edges of the dam. And not just any turtles, but Spiny Softshell Turtles.
You see, these turtles are the Nessie of Jamestown, New York. They are a legend, and Spiny Softshell turtles capture the attention of all those around them when they are out of the water. Stories of these creatures are shared continuously, between crew members, and those who often visit this little area of New York. They cause one to enter a state of awe and amazement, fascination and wonder; just as Nessie and the legend of the Loch Ness Monster capture the attention of those whom have heard the stories of her presence. Nessie and these spiny turtles share similar characteristics too, considering they are both nearly impossible to catch. But on this hot and cloudy day, the impossible became possible.
As the crew approached Warner Dam, the spinies sensed our presence and slid back into the rushing waters in front of the dam. Not long after though, the crew entered the water, creating a barrier with the seine net that the turtles could not pass, while others began to swim towards to dam. The water was surprisingly deep, well over the head of even the tallest member, as this was the first time that the crew had tried this approach. As time went on, the net crew stood firmly in place, ready for the turtles to make their way downstream, while the others swam, nets in hand, trying to spook the turtles toward the net. After checking every crevice possible, each swimmer made their way back to the seine net where they helped to lift it out of the water, finding that their feeble attempt had failed.
Again a portion of the crew was sent towards the dam swimming, while the others waited holding the net. After a few cut hands and fingers on the sharp rocks and only one sighting of a turtle head, the large net was checked again, finding nothing but garbage from the water, causing everyone to hang their heads in disappointment after another fruitless mission.
Upon second glance however, among the garbage and tangles of the net, a small creature was uncovered. At first one member of the crew simply said, “wait, there’s a turtle…” then another came to take a look, and they both began exclaiming that it was not only a turtle, but the turtle they have been searching for: the Spiny Softshell Turtle. It may not have been Nessie that they caught, but it was indeed, a spectacular find. Everyone remained motionless, as they stood in their places in a state of disbelief, until the realization and excitement took over. Soon everyone was shouting and jumping, scrambling to call our advisor to share the news. Because unlike Nessie, this capture was proof that this species is thriving here in Jamestown, New York. After nearly a year and a half of struggles, the first Spiny was caught in the Chadakoin River. The news quickly spread, as the seemingly impossible mission was indeed possible.
Now a new type of energy fills each crew member, leader and everyone at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. The first up close viewing, the first touch, and the first data of a Spiny Softshell Turtle has lead to even greater goals, and the entire crew can’t wait to get another Spiny in their net. Even though this small male may have been a little aggressive, after nearly taking off a few fingers, Myrtle, the crew’s first spiny turtle, and the path to capturing it has been long and treacherous, it has replenished the spirit and hope of everyone here.
Until we meet again, Spiny.