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Stories About Loggerhead Turtles

It is obvious that today people see the turtle, the loggerhead turtle, different today than 25 years ago. Back then as soon as you say a turtle it meant some fun and adventure and food, of course. Today it is: “See me, admire me, protect me.” Back then if you said you missed a turtle or it escaped from you, you would be considered a “pendejo” (useless fishermen). Today if catch one, you might be in trouble with the law, and if you catch one you might be considered an inconsiderate fisherman. It is a bit uneasy to even write stories about turtles today, for you might cause an impression with environmentalists and protection agencies, but let us try writing a few. Perhaps by so doing, we will get to appreciate turtles even more.

People have fond memories about turtles in the 1950’s and 60’s. The month of May was very special for this. Every afternoon, two or three fishermen would get into their sailing boat and head towards the channel or cut and head out for el “jilero” or the deep blue outside the reef, where they would do two things. One was to trawl for barracuda and kingfish and the other was to hunt for a possible turtle. One man would be at the rudder, with a fishing line, the other would be at the bow of the boat looking in all directions for a possible turtle. Because a turtle has lungs, it must come to the surface for air. As soon as one was spotted, the boat would start circling in the area where the turtle would surface in about two or three minutes. If near the boat, the fisherman would make one dive towards the animal and catch it with his bare hands. You might ask, is it dangerous to catch a turtle? Can it bite you? Well, it would if you put your hands into its mouth or you allow it to turn its head and bite your hand, but the place to capture a turtle is from its shell at the tail and behind its neck. Once in your possession, you pull the neck up and push the tail part down. The animal would be forced to swim upwards and you direct it towards your boat. The man on board will grab the turtle by its fin and pull it on board. If it was a two hundred pound turtle, you would need to tie the animal and then try to put it on board.

I remember once when my dad and Erlindo Graniel went one evening to hunt for turtle. I easily managed to be taken along for I did not get seasick. My poor brother was seldom taken along for he easily got the motion sickness. Once in the deep blue, about half a mile outside the reef, Erlindo, whom we all called “Once”, spotted a large turtle. Just when the turtle was submerging, Erlindo dived behind the animal with a fishing line and large hook. The animal disappeared, and so did Erlindo. To me it seemed like an hour, but it was probably 40 seconds, when Erlindo surfaced and said: “I got him.” He had hooked the turtle by its fin, and we proceeded to pull it up towards our boat, La Anita”. Not very long afterwards, we surfaced a large turtle, which was about four feet long and weighed some 200 pounds. Erlindo was a very daring skin diver and fisherman and this had been the strangest way to capture a turtle, so I remember this anecdote with fondness.

This hunt for turtles was a favorite pastime of Sanpedranos 25 years ago. Literally all fisherman went outside the reef in the afternoons. I would say every afternoon the boats landed some eight to ten turtles. The morning was used for regular fishing, but in the afternoon it was a time everyone looked forward to. Even mom and sister hoped to go along. It was a Sanpedrano pastime. It was like us being tourists in our own hometown twenty five years ago.

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