Saturday, May 09, 2020

'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'

Overall installation rough
e) Sea Turtles - represented by an empty shell, composed of a set of formed and welded together plates.  Of 7 modern types, fully 5 are on the Endangered list. 110 million years (modern species), through 1 Extinction Event.

So - there is some deeper background here, which will later lead in to more on how this whole concept was originally inspired:
" On short notice in February 2019, I was offered free shared lodgings at a private owned B & B in Boca de Camarioca, Cuba. I jumped at this, the first real vacation I have undertaken (outside of work related travel) in 30 years.  Boca is just down the northern coast road from the major tourist destination of Varadero, about two hours drive east of Havana. "
From an earlier commentary 'Metalworking in Cuba'
Now, I had not really written very much about this overall trip. I spent a lot of time just wandering around with my camera, within walking distance of those lodgings. I spent at least an hour each day skin diving at the local beach, with two additional scuba trips.
Over the years, one of the things I really love to do is beach combing. As you might guess, living in central Ontario, my chances to wander the edge of an ocean has been limited. Every trip out to Newfoundland has included some time along the shores as a break from the long drive.
So another main activities during that week long time in Cuba was again spent along the shores around Boca. Nice thing there that these were not manicured 'tourist' beaches, instead more like the places 'normal' Cubans visited, or just stretches that were more or less 'raw'.

Looking roughly west - across the river that bisects Boca de Camarioca
Boca is divided by a river, with the more 'high end' / middle class portion (where the B & B was) to the east, and a lower income section to the west, as seen above. That image was shot from the road that the B & B was situated on, more or less right in front. One morning I took a walk along the shore you see, working down to the left of what you see. The arrow marks where I discovered what certainly I consider the best of all the various things I have found over many years.

Recovered skull - on the window ledge in Cuba.

This was a skull of a sea turtle.
As you can see, it most obviously has been long exposed to sun and air. The bone is clearly bleached white, and there was only the merest trace of any flesh remaining (a process that normally takes considerable time). As a chance find, and certainly long after the death of the animal, I did not feel any links to this death.
My notes from that day give the scull as 17 cm long. 

I was spending those afternoons skin diving off a beach that was just down the road from the B & B, maybe a five minute walk. There was a low coral / rock outcropping set about 75 m off the beach that acted as a wave break. This was joined by a spit of sand to the beach, which was just barely exposed at high tide. (The tide lift there was about 1 m). I cautiously would swim on the westward side cove this situation created. At it's deepest the water was maybe about 4 - 5 m, so you could reach bottom from the surface without too much problem.

Looking roughly west, down the public beach (at high tide) - the far 'cove' is where I was swimming
Later that week, as I was getting out of the water, another mask equipped diver was just walking on shore. In his hands he had the back shell of a sea turtle, about 60 - 70 cm long. More or less at the position indicated. This was clearly from a 'fresh kill', with flesh still clinging. After a long number of hours paddling around the same area (admittedly 2/3 the size of a football field) I most certainly had not seen this. (1)

When I was doing the general background research into species, sea turtles were certainly one of the animals I thought to include. Individual Sea Turtles types all have quite wide distribution over the worlds oceans. Still, almost all (as stated 5 out of 7) are on the Endangered List.

Something that really hit home to me, as I did the background research for this commentary. A quick look showed that both the Green and Loggerhead turtle was found off Cuba. I wondered if I could possibly figure out what exact species the skull belonged to. I did have images of the skull as I had found on the beach. After some internet searching, I was able to find an excellent series of articles:

The Anatomy of Sea Turtles
Jeanette Wyneken, Ph.D.
Illustrated by Dawn Witherington

Honestly, I was a bit shocked when I compared my images to the the photos and images in Dr Wyneken's descriptions.

What I had found was the skull of a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Wild Hawsbill Sea Turtle
Currently on the Critically Endangered List.
" The hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a Critically Endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae.
These turtles have been harvested for their beautiful shell since Egyptian times, and the material known as tortoiseshell is normally from the hawksbill
The data given by the Marine Turtle Specialist Group showed the worldwide hawksbill sea turtle population had declined by 80% in the three most recent generations, and no significant population increase occurred as of 1996. "
(taken from Wikipedia entry)

My initial idea for representing sea turtles in 'Last to Sea' was to use just an empty shell. I considered showing the inner surface of the top side, mainly because of the visually interesting arrangement of spine bones are fused to the individual plates. (2) I decided not to lay the resulting bowl shape opening upwards so as to collect rain water, mainly out of a consideration against harbouring mosquitoes.
When I was first looking for reference materials for the piece, the clearest illustration was this drawing of the shell plates, of a Green Sea Turtle.

From G.A. Boulenger, Fauna of British India. Amphibia and Reptilia. 1890
So, details of the Green on hand, I used this as my prototype. (3) Again, I was not attempting to duplicate nature - but to suggest it. I thus simplified the construction, using the five central plates, plus the four larger plates seen on the right and left sides. I chose to expand the shape of the top (head end) plate.

As with earlier pieces in 'Last to Sea', I initially cut out the shapes using a oxy-propane torch. I then ground the contours smooth. Each separate plate was heated and dished. The edges that would be attached to other plates then had those lines curled further under. This done by working the metal over the edge of a ball stake.

Plates after forging - laid out in their positions
 I did not worry if the plates turned out to have mirror image contours - or even if the final forged pieces fit exactly together.  Expected there would end up being random gaps, and the overall shape would end up becoming somewhat distorted.  Both would better suggest the shell 'after death'.

Finished 'Sea Turtle'
You can see the result has roughly the same proportions as the natural shape of the Green turtle top shell illustrated above.
The final sculpture piece is 40 cm long and 35 wide. Mature and fully grown Greens reach 80 - 110 cm in length. My result is actually a bit smaller than that recently killed turtle shell I saw that day on the beach.

Next Up : 'Unknown in the Depths'

1) One of the situations there : Local fishermen were based upstream along that river, starting just beyond the bridge seen in the first image. (Perhaps) Curiously, one of the few times I was 'shouted off' from my wandering was when I got closer to the boat moorings.
I generally avoid taking 'identifiable' images of people, mainly because I consider it impolite to do so without specific permission.

2) The shapes of the inner surfaces of turtle shells are well illustrated in another of Dr. Wyneken's series : The Anatomy of Sea Turtles

3) I had not discovered the species of that skull on the beach in Cuba until I was doing research in preparation of writing this commentary. If I had realized that my inspiration had actually been a Hawksback, I most certainly would have chosen to work from the distinctive shape and arrangement of the back plates of that animal.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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