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Wild Things

The weird and wonderful in the natural world

Sarah Zielinski

Wild Things

Wild Things

Tiny trackers reveal the secret lives of young sea turtles

loggerhead turtles

Young loggerhead turtles from Brazil can end up in very different places in the Atlantic depending on when they hatch, a study of tagged turtles has found.

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Not so long ago, the lives of sea turtles were largely a mystery. From the time that hatchlings left the beaches where they were born to waddle into the ocean until females returned to lay their eggs, no one really knew where the turtles went or what they did.

Then researchers started attaching satellite trackers to young turtles. And that’s when scientists discovered that the turtles aren’t just passive ocean drifters; they actively swim at least some of the time.

Now scientists have used tracking technology to get some clues about where South Atlantic loggerhead turtles go. And it turns out that those turtles are traveling to some unexpected places.

Katherine Mansfield, a marine scientist and turtle biologist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and colleagues put 19 solar-powered satellite tags on young (less than a year old), lab-reared loggerhead sea turtles. The turtles were then let loose into the ocean off the coast of Brazil at various times during the hatching season, between November 2011 and April 2012.

The tags get applied to the turtles in several steps. Turtle shells are made of keratin, like your fingernails, and this flakes off and changes shape as a turtle grows. Mansfield’s team had figured out, thanks to a handy tip from a manicurist, that a base layer of manicure acrylic deals with the flaking. And then some strips of neoprene along with aquarium silicone attach the tag to the shell. With all that prep, the tag can stay on for months. The tags transmit while a turtle is at the water’s surface. A loss of the signal indicates that either the tag has fallen off and sunken into the water, “or something ate the turtle,” Mansfield says.

The trackers revealed that not all Brazilian loggerhead sea turtles stay in the South Atlantic. Turtles released in the early- to mid-hatching season stay in southern waters. But then the off-coast currents change direction, which brings later-season turtles north, across the equator. Their trajectories could take them as far as the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico or even farther north, which would explain genetic evidence of mixing between southern and northern loggerhead populations. And it may help to make the species, which is endangered, more resilient in the face of environmental and human threats, the researchers conclude December 6 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

But, Mansfield cautions, “these are just a handful of satellite tracks for a handful of turtles off the coast of Brazil.” She and other scientists “are just starting to build a story” about what happens to these turtles out in the ocean. “There’s still so much we don’t know,” she says.

Mansfield hopes the tracking data will help researchers figure out where the young turtles can be found out in the open ocean so scientists can catch, tag and track wild turtles. And there’s a need for even tinier tags that can be attached to newly hatched turtles to see exactly where they go and how many actually survive those first vulnerable weeks and months at sea. Eventually, Mansfield would like to have enough data to make comparisons between sea turtle species.

“The more we’re tracking, the more we’re studying them, we’re starting to realize [the turtles] behave differently than we’ve historically assumed,” Mansfield says.

To learn more about the mysterious lives of sea turtles, researchers attached tiny satellite trackers to young turtles and set them free in the open ocean.  TAMAR

Animals,, Conservation

Improbable ‘black swan’ events can devastate animal populations

By Sarah Zielinski 9:00am, April 17, 2017
Conservation managers should take a note from the world of investments and pay attention to “black swan” events, a new study posits.

Camera trap catches a badger burying a cow

By Sarah Zielinski 11:00am, March 31, 2017
Badgers are known to bury small animals to save them for future eating. Now researchers have caught them caching something much bigger: young cows.
Animals,, Conservation

De-extinction probably isn’t worth it

By Sarah Zielinski 7:00am, March 9, 2017
Diverting money to resurrecting extinct creatures could put those still on Earth at risk.
Sustainability,, Oceans,, Animals

Most fish turned into fishmeal are species that we could be eating

By Sarah Zielinski 7:00am, February 27, 2017
Millions of tons of food-grade fish are turned into fishmeal for aquaculture and agriculture.

The animal guide to finding love

By Sarah Zielinski 6:00am, February 14, 2017
Learn to dance, keep an eye on your competition, bring a gift: Animals have some practical advice for finding a mate.
Animals,, Conservation

A diet of corn turns wild hamsters into cannibals

By Sarah Zielinski 9:00am, February 7, 2017
Female European hamsters fed a diet of corn eat their young — alive. They may be suffering from something similar to the human disease pellagra.
Conservation,, Plants

A message to rock climbers: Be kind to nature

By Sarah Zielinski 7:00am, January 18, 2017
Scientists are only just starting to figure out the impacts that the sport of rock climbing is having on cliff ecosystems.

World’s largest reindeer population may fall victim to climate change

By Sarah Zielinski 8:00am, December 23, 2016
Climate change and wolves are driving down the reindeer population in Russia’s Taimyr population.
Animals,, Evolution

Chimps look at behinds the way we look at faces

By Sarah Zielinski 8:00am, December 16, 2016
Humans demonstrate something called the inversion effect when gazing at faces. Chimpanzees do this too — when looking at other chimps’ butts.

Why a mountain goat is a better climber than you

By Sarah Zielinski 12:21pm, December 7, 2016
For the first time, scientists have analyzed how a mountain goat climbs a cliff. Big muscles in the shoulder and neck help a lot, they find.
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