Tiny Trackers Reveal Where Turtles Disappear To During Their “Lost Years” At Sea

The life cycle of the sea turtle is an interesting journey. From the point of the day they stood against it, fighting from the sand and rushing into the water like crazy before it was thought that only one in 1000 could survive. What happened next was something of a mystery to marine science, as young turtles are often overlooked at sea and seem to disappear until they return to the beach to lay eggs as adults.

It was thought that any unusual bacteria could enable them to use it to navigate the earth’s magnetic field. New research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Journal sheds some light on the green turtle’s “lost years,” as researchers try to use tabs where the baby turtle party was, using tracking devices. Their results show that ocean-level green turtles emerge from bay currents and North Atlantic subtropical gear currents and travel to the surface waters of the Sargasso Sea.

If this sounds like a simple solution, the researchers in the study soon discovered that attaching a tracking device to a newly growing tortoise is much easier than done. Lead historian Kate Mansfield told IFLScience, “Historically, these young turtles have not been able to carry the old satellite tag.”

“These older tags had larger batteries that were needed to help the tags communicate with the satellites overhead, orbiting. The tags we used were developed. With the help of loggerheads, their shells peel off as they get bigger, and anything we get stuck in their shells is reduced in about 1-2 weeks.” Concerned about whether the connection between tortoise shells and human nails may contain a solution (both containing keratin), co-author Janet Wyneken called a manicurist to see what they could use when nail polish.

The remarkable advice proved effective for tracking loggerhead, camp ridley and hawksbill turtles but was unsuitable for green turtles. The search turned into something of the Goldie Locks and Three Bears of marine science as the team went through multiple sticky paths in search of the perfect fit. A flexible adhesive that can be stretched to match the growth of the tortoise could not be used as soon as the shell was closed. Researchers later checked in with a dentist to find out what glue was used for the crowns, but that wasn’t exactly the case.