Turtle Trax Glossary

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Defined Terms



An arribada is a mass nesting of turtles. Perhaps the most famous arribada was recorded on film by an amateur cameraman, Ing. Herrera, and shown by Dr. Henry Hildebrand in 1961. It recorded an estimated 40,000 Kemp's ridley females nesting on a single day at one beach in Mexico, Rancho Nuevo. In So Excellent A Fishe, Archie Carr gives a marvellous account the circumstances leading up to this event, and his elation at seeing the film for the first time.

Rancho Nuevo remains the only known nesting beach for the Kemp's ridley. According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Plan for the Kemp's ridley, from 1978 to 1991, a single arribada rarely reached 200 females. The Kemp's ridley is considered to be the marine turtle most at risk, and is listed as endangered.


Bekko is a Japanese word for the shell of the hawksbill, a turtle that is particularly prized for its ornate shell. Hawksbills have been turned into everything from cabinets to door posts, hand mirrors, and cribbage sets. There seems no end to the uses humans make of these animals.

Since its beginnings, Cayman Turtle Farms has managed to produce a green sea turtle whose shell is equally ornate. These creatures live in very shallow pens and so their shells are exposed more to the sun than wild Caribbean Green Turtle populations (of which Cayman has none, having used them all up many years previous).

To justify their farming practises and slaughtering turtles for these ornate shells, the thinking goes something like this:

There is a market for ornate shells and if we sell our brightly shelled farmed green turtles, it will take the pressure off the wild hawksbill populations.

Trouble is, to an untrained or casual eye, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two and so this makes it easier for hawksbill shells to find their way to market in the guise of "farmed" green turtles.


Benthic comes from the Greek word benthos, meaning depth, and is an adjective describing things related to the bottom of the sea or a lake.


By-catch is the undesired extra catch taken when trawling. According to the Earth Island Institute's video TEDs: turtle excluder devices, a shrimp trawler without a TED takes 10 pounds of unwanted (and hence, discarded) catch for each pound of shrimp.


Calipee is a vital ingredient in turtle soup. It is the cartilage cut from the bones of the bottom shell. Archie Carr tells us that the half-dozen pieces weigh about five pounds wet and less when dried. He also describes a gruesome harvesting procedure employed by poachers: green sea turtles are turned over, the calipee cut out, and the turtle is left to die.

For a photo, see opp. p.108 in The Sea Turtle So Excellent a Fishe by Archie Carr, University of Texas Press.


The carapace is top shell of a turtle.


Cotorra is a Castilian word meaning "parrot." In So Excellent A Fishe, Archie Carr describes cotorras as a word used along the Gulf coast of Mexico to refer to ridleys.


Gamera is the second most popular Japanese movie monster of the 60s, after Godzilla. Gamera is a rather large turtle with fierce fangs. He gets the ability to fly by pulling in his arms and legs and replacing them with shooting flames. This sets him spinning like crazy, but it also allows him to race through the skies, battling other monsters and saving children. Gamera is the Friend of All Children.

The Turtle Trax turtles admire Gamera, and love to watch his movies (79K JPEG).

horse apples

Wow, hard to believe that you aren't sure what horse apples are.

If you've ever watched a horse for long, you've seen the tail go up and the horse make a bunch of horse apples. We use this term to describe clusters of small to medium-sized tumors, usually ringing the neck and throat.


Honokowai is Hawaiian for "place of fresh water." It is the name of a small region of West Maui that lies north of Lahaina and Ka'anapali. It stretches roughly from the Honokowai Stream north to the Mahinahina Stream. Both of these streams have been turned into concrete erosion and flood control channels.

The ocean around Honokowai is relatively shallow for some distance from shore, reaching 20 m (60 ft) at an average distance of about 500 m (yards if you prefer). The bottom is a combination of sand and coral rubble, interspersed with fingers of the coral reef that surrounds the island of Maui.

Public access to these waters is through Honokowai Park, across some rather intimidating reefs formed from ancient beach sand. The rest of the shoreline consists of a mix of small beaches, rock, and sea walls, all bordered by condominiums. Although every beach in Hawaii is public by law, public access is often available only by approaching along the shore or from the sea.


Literally, Hawaiian for "small piece of property." We needed a word to refer to the area that an ohana of turtles live in. George Balazs, with his usual sense for exactly the right word, suggested "kuleana."


A veranda, patio, outdoor balcony.


Limu is the Hawaiian word for seaweed. Limu is almost exclusively the food of Hawaiian green turtles.

lost years

The lost years is a term commonly used to refer to the years between a turtle's hatching and its return to coastal waters as a juvenile. Although there have been sightings of hatchling-sized turtles adrift in sargassum and other sea grasses, no one has yet discovered where the majority of newly hatched turtles spend their childhood. It is not even known how long this period lasts, although estimates range from three to seven years.

mahalo, mahalo nui loa

Mahalo is Hawaiian for "thank you." It is sometimes accompanied by the phrase nui loa, which is an intensifier meaning "very much."


Hawaiian for "seaward; towards the sea."


Hawaiian for "mountain-side; towards the mountains."


Ohana is a Hawaiian word meaning "family, kin group, or extended family." Although we know the turtles that inhabit a site probably aren't related, they do spend a lot of time together and we needed a name for that kind of group. Our good friend and Hawaiian turtle expert George Balazs suggested the term "ohana", and right away we knew it was just the right word.


Pelagic comes from the Greek word pelagos, meaning sea, and is an adjective describing things of or relating to the open sea.


The plastron is the bony plate that forms the underside of a turtle's shell, covering its belly.


Hawaiian for "hole." Honu, especially little ones, like to lie in pukas in the reef. Sometimes they wind up making their own. See "Turtle Trample."

quantum bogodynamics

From the Hacker's Dictionary:

Quantum bogodynamics is a theory that characterizes the universe in terms of bogon sources (such as politicians, used-car salesmen, TV evangelists, and suits in general), bogon sinks (such as taxpayers and computers), and bogosity potential fields. Bogon absorption, of course, causes human beings to behave mindlessly and machines to fail (and may also cause both to emit secondary bogons); however, the precise mechanics of the bogon-computron interaction are not yet understood and remain to be elucidated. Quantum bogodynamics is most often invoked to explain the sharp increase in hardware and software failures in the presence of suits; the latter emit bogons, which the former absorb.


A recruit is a young honu freshly arrived inshore from the pelagic stage. Recruits can be identified by their size (small, about dinner-plate size shells) and their brilliantly coloured carapaces, which have not yet developed the algae coating found on more mature turtles. There is no specific length for the recruit stage, but the dulling of the shell colours due to algae could be one limit.

saddleback wrasse

The saddleback wrasse (T. duperry) is a common reef fish in the Hawaiian Islands. It is unmistakable, having a green body with a large orange band just behind the head. The saddleback reaches lengths of up to 30 cm in adulthood. We have often observed this wrasse biting at tumors and other white spots on the skin of turtles, probably in an effort to feed upon parasites.

"salt and pepper"

We coined the term "salt and pepper" to describe the suspicious white spots we see on turtles. Our experience is that "salt and pepper" usually develops into tumors by the next summer.

sexing turtles

Marine turtles are not the easiest creatures in the world to sex. The only obvious physical characteristic that allows you to tell male from female is the size of the male's tail, but only after the male is sexually mature.

In general, we refer to most turtles as female. The major exception to this is Howzit, who somehow reminds us of a male. This could be wrong, of course. We thought Nui was a female for a few summers, until we realized her tail was growing.

take, taking

The U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, DEFINITIONS, Section 3, says:

The term "take" means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.

Senator Gorton proposes to redefine "take". His proposed definition is:

(25) Take:

(A) In general: The term `take' means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in that conduct.

(B) Harm: In subparagraph (A), the term 'harm' means to take a direct action against any member of an endangered species of fish or wildlife that actually injures or kills a member of the species.

Since paragraph (A) is already in the existing Act, (B) will tell us what Senator Gorton really wants. He wants to elaborate on the meaning of "harm." Why? Since "injure" and "kill" are already nicely covered in paragraph (A), Senator Gorton must want to slip in something else. The only word it could be is "direct."

According to Senator Gorton's new bill, only if the action is direct does it constitute harm. If it is an indirect action, it can argued that it does not fall under the definition of harm. Now read Section 403.

talk story

Talk story is a term from Hawaiian pidgin, roughly meaning to converse informally.

turtle cleaning station

A turtle cleaning station is a place where sea turtles congregate in order to get their shells cleaned by various algae-eating fish, and to have their skin picked clean of parasites. Turtles will lie on the reef or sea bottom (60K JPEG), or assume one of several cleaning postures (45K JPEG) to allow the fish to scrape away the algae or get at the parasites.

For a description of what goes on at a cleaning station, read Glimpse of a Turtle House.

Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)

A Turtle Excluder Device is a hatchdoor placed in a trawler net that allows sea turtles to escape while retaining the desired catch. A turtle trapped in a trawl (37K GIF) can escape before being drowned (34K GIF. Images captured from the Earth Island Institute's video TEDs: turtle excluder devices.)

TEDs are effective approximately 97% of the time. They are credited with saving thousands of sea turtle lives every year, and are critical to the survival of the Kemp's ridley turtle. TEDs are inexpensive to install (less than $500 US) and have benefits besides saving the lives of turtles, including reduced fuel consumption and decreased by-catch.

U.S. Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA) has introduced S-768, an odious bill to amend the Endangered Species Act. This bill would eliminate the requirement for shrimp trawlers to use TEDs. We urge you write to all U.S Senators and request that they reject this amendment.

Turtle Trample

Turtle Trample is the name we use to describe the holes in the reef created when heavy honu rest repeatedly on fragile coral.

whitespotted tobies

The whitespotted toby (C. jactator) is also commonly known as the whitespotted puffer fish and is a common fish around Hawaiian reefs. It has a pointed snout, a round, spotted body, and measures about 5-7 cm when fully grown. Often, when a resting turtle gets up, the action reveals a whitespotted toby. Many times we have observed this fish biting at fibropapilloma tumors, probably to feed off the parasites found there.

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