All that being said, when I went to Guerrero Negro, Baja Sur California, Mexico last month to collect samples for my research, I was extremely pleased when we ended up with a final sample size of... you guessed it... n=30.
Now if you've been a follower of this blog long enough, you'll know that my samples, sadly, come from dead sea turtles. Yes, I use the humerus bone (upper flipper/arm bone) to learn about the turtle's life history, habitat use, and diet.
So, a big sample size for me - is not a good thing for our awesome turtles. Sadly, sea turtle mortality is all too common of a thing and is caused by natural causes such as predators when the turtles are small, water that gets too cold too quickly, and standard things like old age - but a lot of mortalities are also the result of interaction with human-pressures. This may include the ingestion of plastics or toxins, entanglement in our trash and pollution or fishing gear, hunting for turtle meat, eggs, and other "products", - just to name a few. So my approach, when I'm out there walking along a beach - looking for turtle carcasses - is that it is a reality that these animals are dying, but if we can still learn something from these animals, even after they have died, that will help us protect the turtles that are still living - then let that be my role in sea turtle conservation.
With this perspective, these were the ingredients necessary to get this "good" sample size:
- One week in Baja California Sur; the first part spent patrolling the water and shorelines of Laguna Ojo de Liebre for dead-stranded turtles. Funding graciously provided by the UCSD Jeanne Marie Messier Memorial Endowment Fund made this trip and fieldwork possible.
- Two INCREDIBLE partners who helped make this trip and fieldwork possible! (Juan Manuel & Andrea from GTC rock!!)
- A team of ~10 AMAZING local partners from Guerrero Negro who helped with all the hardest parts of the fieldwork. Never could have done it without them!
- One day spent on the water patrolling for in-water dead turtles - while counting breeding grey whales! (Our boat counted over 500 whales, the other boat over 300, and that wasn't even peak season yet!!) We found a total of 4 dead-stranded turtles floating in the water - usually with a bird perched on top it!)
- 1 cold-stunned live turtle in need of help. Once the turtle was pulled into the boat - standard measurements were taken and then it was taken to a sunny beach to warm up before being tagged and released.
- And to top it all off, a few days spent at the Grupo Tortuguero de las Californias 15th Annual Meeting in Loreto talking with and learning from the many partners in this incredible group!
The final result: a total of 30 bones from turtles ranging in size from 24 cm to 100 cm (n=30). And this smallest turtle's bone - is INCREDIBLY important for my research. In order to know and estimate the age of these turtles - one of my primary research goals - I need samples from small turtles (and yes, this is sad.) Notice the humerus bone in the sand in the lower right corner of the photo.
Yup, it's pretty safe to say this was one of the most amazing trips and experiences of my life - despite it being only 1 week. Just another reason why I love my job as a marine turtle conservation ecologist.