Sea turtle plays star role in lost-camera saga

Turtle gets hold of digital camera lost in Aruba and films telling footage before the cam washes up on a Key West, Fla., shore six months later.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
3 min read

A videographer who also happens to be a sea turtle has become a media star for filming the journey of a lost digicam that traveled 1,100 miles by sea and is now on the way back to its owner.

The seafaring saga started last November, when Royal Dutch Navy sergeant Dick de Bruin apparently lost his red Nikon Coolpix L18 while exploring an underwater shipwreck off the coast of Aruba. Six months later, Coast Guard investigator Paul Shultz spotted the cam--encased in sea-debris-encrusted Ikelite waterproof housing but intact--when it washed ashore in Key West, Fla.

Shultz said his investigative instincts were piqued by the orphaned camera, which didn't contain shots offering any definitive clues about its owner. He started sleuthing by posting a message on the online forum ScubaBoard.

This story just has to show up in a Nikon Coolpix L18 ad one day. Nikon

"This is a total shot in the dark," he wrote. "I found a digital camera and waterproof case washed up here in Key West. I am trying to identify an owner so I can return it." He uploaded images from the cam, hoping other divers could help identify the location, which they pinned as Aruba, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea.

One photo showed the side of an aircraft, which helped Schultz trace the flight history to confirm that the camera had, in fact, been in Aruba. He posted additional photos from the camera to travel Web sites Cruise Critic and Aruba.com. Within days, an Aruban woman contacted Shultz saying she recognized the children in the photos as classmates of her son (de Bruin is stationed in Aruba with his family for several years).

The woman then contacted de Bruin to hook him up with Schultz, and the rest, as they say, is history. The camera is now on its way back to de Bruin--this time, presumably not by sea.

As for the turtle, it became entangled with the Nikon on January 15, according to camera records, turned it on, and took the above home video (which has gotten more than 545,000 views on YouTube as of Tuesday afternoon). Based on when that footage was taken, Shultz estimates that the turtle shot it in the vicinity of Honduras. The owner has confirmed that the last thing he did before losing his camera was take a video, so the device was in video mode when the turtle got ahold of it.

de Bruin said the turtle's shaky footage provided the crucial evidence that his camera made its journey by bobbing along in the ocean. "We have the sea turtle on film proving the camera floated from Aruba to the U.S.," de Bruin is being widely quoted as saying. "It's unbelievable, but it's true."

Villy Kourafalou, an associate professor of physical oceanography at the University of Miami, confirmed to the Associated Press that the buoyancy of the camera's plastic case, combined with various currents, make the camera's odyssey plausible.

Amazing, yes, but our favorite part of this whole story has to be this reader comment critiquing the turtle's photography skills. "I didn't like some of the angles chosen and probably could have made a slightly better video," wrote one Daily Mail commenter, "but I recognize I would not be as good at laying eggs on a beach."