Local scientists tout success of ‘revolutionary’ way to tag sea turtles

A loggerhead sea turtle in rehabilitative care at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital. (New England Aquarium)

Scientists at the New England Aquarium say they’ve developed a “revolutionary” way to monitor threatened and endangered sea turtles over long periods of time.

After rehabbing four loggerhead sea turtles that were found cold-stunned on Cape Cod beaches, researchers surgically implanted acoustic tags just under the turtles’ skin, and have since found them thriving in the wild.

“And yes, their names are hilarious. … We had Captain Kool-Aid, Popeye, Glossy Ibis and Peanut,” said Kara Dodge, a sea turtle expert and research scientist at the New England Aquarium.

While tagging turtles after rehabilitation is not a new concept, sedating and implanting an acoustic tag just above the animal’s hip — versus affixing a satellite tag to a shell — is a completely new method for sea turtles.

A typical satellite tag often only lasts about three or four months and can cost from $2,000 to $5,000.

“The advantage of an acoustic tag is that they are a longer duration tag. They can last up to — depending on the model— three to 10 years,” Dodge said. “They also are an order of magnitude less expensive. So these tags we used for this past round of loggerheads were about $400 apiece. So in theory, you could tag many, many more animals at a much lower cost.”