Did Stephanie Die of Old Age?

George Shillinger in Monterey, CA. Did Stephanie and her sister leatherbacks die of old age?

One of the divas of the Great Turtle Race, Stephanie Colburtle, hasn’t sent us a message for more than 100 days. We’re a little concerned about her and three other turtles: Windy, Champira and Drexelina. The other seven turtles are well on their way to their distant feeding grounds off Peru and Chile. This week, we’re looking at all the possibilities of what could have happened to the missing turtles.




“It’s not likely that Stephanie died of old age,” says TOPP researcher Jim Spotila, a turtle researcher who’s been monitoring leatherbacks at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, for decades. The Drexel University professor founded the Leatherback Trust to save the leatherback turtle from extinction. Stephanie’s first recorded nesting was in the 1995-1996 season, when she laid seven nests between December 19, 1995 and February 14, 1996.
“She wouldn’t be really old. If she was eleven years old, about the age when a female begins laying eggs, she’s in her 20s now. That’s still young,” says Spotila.

Although it's not known exactly how long leatherback turtles live, you can begin to see them age, says Spotila. “None of the turtles we saw this year showed signs of being old. The signs of an old turtle are that their shells are kind of worn out. Their skin doesn’t look as fresh. None at Playa Grande this year looked that way.”

Champira laid her first eggs during the 2000/2001 season. Windy laid her first nests in the 1997-1998 season. Drexelina’s very young: she laid her first eggs in 2003.