JUNO BEACH, Fla. - Researchers know a little more about where sea turtles travel, how deep they dive and how fast they swim, thanks to a cigar-shaped tracking device attached to a turtle's shell nearly a year ago.
Gilda, a 235-pounder released a year ago from the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, provided that information while she swam to New Jersey. The loggerhead healed at the marine center after her right front flipper was amputated following a boating accident.
"We were very excited to learn that Gilda was diving and behaving normally despite only having three flippers," said Nancy Matee, Marinelife staff veterinarian. "Data collected by GPS technology revealed she was diving deep and traveling long distances."
Improved technology means better understanding of the wanderings of the sea turtles. Transmitters are now so small they can be attached to 3-month-old hatchlings, about the size of the palm of your hand.
When the turtle surfaces, data is beamed to a satellite. That information is then transmitted to researchers. The transmissions are irregular because turtles' resurfacing must coincide with the satellite passing overhead, said Kirt Rusenko, marine conservationist at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.
Like a bicycle rider pedaling with the wind, most sea turtles let the Gulf Stream take them north along the eastern U.S. coast toward New England. They then swim across the Atlantic toward the Azores, off the coast of Portugal.
Gilda averaged 20-60 minute dives and spent up to 45 minutes at the surface. Other dives lasted many hours, with short surface intervals. Gilda was the first rehabilitated turtle released from Marinelife with a tracking device.
Researchers figure the device popped off in July while she was off the coast of New Jersey. They received the final transmission about 900 miles from New Jersey in the Atlantic . Gilda's whereabouts and condition are unknown.
More turtle tracking depends on financing, said Marinelife Communications Manager Tom Longo.
"The devices cost between $7,000 and $10,000 each," he said.
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