Acoustic tags track 'frenzy swimming' in baby sea turtles

Rebecca Scott

Acoustic tags track 'frenzy swimming' in baby sea turtles

As soon as a baby sea turtle hatches, it races to the water’s edge and vanishes into the waves. Scientists have used small satellite transmitters to track older, juvenile sea turtles; they’ve never been able to follow the hatchlings. But now researchers on the island of Boa Vista in Cape Verde (off the coast of West Africa) report tracking 11 hatchling loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) for more than 8 hours, after the tiny animals first set flippers into the sea. The scientists recorded the animals’ journeys via nanoacoustic tags glued to the hatchlings’ shells (pictured), which sent a ping that the researchers recorded and later used to plot the animals’ latitude and longitude as they traveled. The glue dissolves after a few days, and the tags were sufficiently small so as not to interfere with the turtles’ movements. The hatchlings proved to be mighty swimmers and traveled as fast as 60 meters per minute once they hit the ocean’s currents that helped transport them. After the first 8 hours, some had traveled more than 15 kilometers from their starting point, the scientists report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Their speedy departure (known as a frenzy swimming) helps them escape numerous coastal predators. Turtles released on both southern and northwestern beaches eventually caught currents that will ultimately transport them to the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic, where they will feed for several years before returning to their natal island. The study should help conservation efforts to protect endangered and threatened sea turtle species by filling in this previously unknown period of their migrations.

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