Fifty miles out to sea from San Diego, in the middle of April, under a perfectly clear blue sky, NOAA Fisheries scientists Tomo Eguchi and Jeff Seminoff leaned over the side of a rubber inflatable boat and lowered a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle into the water. That turtle was a trailblazer—the first of its kind ever released off the West Coast of the United States with a satellite transmitter attached.
Once he was in the water, the little guy—“he’s about the size of a dinner plate,” Seminoff said—paddled away to begin a long journey. He’s been beaming back his location ever since.
That location data will help scientists answer some very important questions about this endangered species.
“We know that there are juvenile loggerheads in this part of the Pacific, but they’re small and very hard to spot,” Eguchi said. “So we don’t have good data on what types of habitat they’re using.”
Part of the reason for the mystery is that, although scientists have long been tagging adult sea turtles, the transmitters have only recently been made small enough to attach to juvenile sea turtles. Today, new tagging methods are quickly shedding light on what scientists once called the “lost years”—the early years of a sea turtle’s life when their migration patterns were mostly unknown.
Scientists have known for a while, however, that juvenile loggerheads sometimes use the same habitat as swordfish, especially when the water becomes unusually warm. They know this because loggerheads are occasionally caught in the gillnets used by swordfish fishermen.
Source: NOAA Fisheries