How many turtles were you expecting?

The turtle release in July, 2015 was a big deal. It was the symbolic culmination of the restoration of Mountain Lake. These Western Pond turtles had been reared from eggs at Sonoma State University. At 5-6 inches across, the biologists said that the turtles were big enough to avoid predators. And each turtle was equipped with a radio transmitter, so they could be accurately counted from a distance.

54 turtles were in that initial release. Today, I counted one turtle. Yesterday, I counted three. There's a problem here.

Fue Her is the Aquatic Ecologist for Mountain Lake. He is an intern with the Presidio Trust, and has been monitoring the turtles since their release. "We've found the remains of five turtles in the past year. Which is a lot. We weren't expecting that many to die."

When the turtles were first released, it was easy to spot them. Logs line the edges of the lake, making ideal basking areas. Last summer, there were plenty of turtles on view. With a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, on a sunny afternoon, Fue would count 20, 25, 30 turtles. During cooler weather or cloudy days, Fue and other Presidio staff would count the turtles using a radio receiver.

Although the radio transmitters are still glued to the turtles' shells, the batteries have been dead for more months. The only way to count turtles right now is to peer through the spotting scope, slowly scanning the lakeside. We wait for the hottest part of the day, when the turtles should be basking, raising their body temperature by soaking up sunlight. We should be seeing dozens of turtles, jammed together like San Franciscans at Baker Beach on a (rare) hot July afternoon.

But the turtles aren't there. The numbers aren't adding up. I really hope this is a mystery, and not a tragedy.