She came to Georgia beaches six times last summer, laying scores of eggs in each of her carefully dug nests. And then there was the mother turtle so precise that she returned to almost exactly the same spot on the same beach to lay her second nest on Sea Island.
Compare her to the "tourism turtle," who laid nests on Cumberland, Little Cumberland and Sea Island. We know details about these animals because of an ongoing research project to identify by a DNA fingerprint every loggerhead sea turtle that nests in Georgia.
Brian Shamblin, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia, helped develop and now supervises the genetics work for the project. He's assisted by a small army of turtle volunteers, interns and researchers who comb the beaches every morning during the summer nesting season.
For the last three seasons, they've been sending him one egg from each nest they discover; Shamblin produces a profile of the mother from maternal DNA that exists between layers of the inner shell membrane for only a short period after the egg is laid.
This year, he's processing more than 1,700 pingpong ball-like eggs from Georgia alone. The project expanded this year to include nesting turtles in the Carolinas and Virginia. Shamblin is about a third of the way through this year's samples.
"So far, we've identified approximately 1,000 females nesting in Georgia over the last few nesting seasons," Shamblin said. "We've only assigned about 30 percent of the 2010 clutches so far, so we'll likely identify many more."
When he does finish, he'll have a good snapshot of how many loggerheads nest in Georgia. In a few more years, he'll know how many loggerheads nest in all four states. The turtles in this area, called the northern recovery unit, are believed to be a distinct genetic subpopulation.
That makes them important from a conservation standpoint, said Mark Dodd, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist and sea turtle coordinator for the state.
"If we lost those females, it's unlikely turtles from Florida would come in and re-establish nesting in any reasonable amount of time," Dodd said.
The DNA testing has already revealed at least 20 mother/daughter pairs of loggerheads nesting here. One female from Jekyll has two daughters identified - one that also nested on Jekyll and one that nested on Blackbeard Island.
For those out in the field doing the hands-on monitoring, the DNA study is a way to identify "their" turtles."Most cooperators work on individual beaches," Dodd said, "It allows them to have a direct connection to the individual female."
The DNA project reveals some of the same information that comes from tagging programs such as the Caretta Research Project on Wassaw, but on a much larger and more detailed scale.
Tagging projects require an intense effort, with volunteers patrolling the beaches at night to catch nesting females in the act of laying their eggs. And even then, they can't catch every turtle, typically missing 10 percent to 20 percent of the females on a beach and failing to account for females that nest on other beaches. Plus, some females lose their flipper tags.
The eggs are much easier to catch.
As the study continues through 2012, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration already in place, Shamblin and Dodd hope to refine answers to questions about turtle behavior - including how many nests a female lays in a season, how long a break she takes between nesting seasons and how far apart nests are typically laid.
Already, they're seeing that some females pinpoint their nesting beach while others put huge distances between nests, including one female this year who laid one nest on Ossabaw and two other nests at Cape Lookout National Seashore, almost 350 miles away.
Dodd wants to ask the next set of questions, including why we see these variations.
"You wonder are they young females that don't know what they're doing so they go all over place?" he said. "It's only a small portion of the population that exhibits this. Do they maintain that pattern for life?"
Dodd also wants to correlate the turtles' survivorship with existing threats, such as boat traffic and shrimping.
"Ultimately, it will help us conserve them," he said.