Baby loggerhead sea turtles hatch, run through a gauntlet of predators and those fortunate enough to make it to the Atlantic Ocean swim off and are rarely heard from again until they are in their 7th year of life at which time they become more visible and less mysterious.
These first years of a sea turtle’s life are called the “lost years” as we know next to nothing about where they live and what they do. Adults are tagged and tracked with relative ease but baby sea turtles were just too small for these transmitters until now.
Kate Mansfield, a marine biologist at the University of Central Florida, and her team came up with a much smaller solar powered transmitter that they attach to the backs of the baby turtles with silicone and acrylic.
Kate Mansfield and her team tagged 17 baby loggerheads and released them into the Gulf Stream off of southeast Florida and tracked them through satellites. These transmitters only communicate with the satellites when exposed to air. They cannot communicate while underwater. With this knowledge, they would know when the turtles were lounging and their frequency on the surface by the transmission times. These baby turtles were tracked from 1-7 months.
Anecdotal evidence based on observations assumed these baby sea turtles steered clear of the continental shelf with its predators and likely took refuge in floating masses of seaweed. Sure enough, the results of the tracking study backed this up. They tended to avoid the continental shelf and many spent time in the Sargasso Sea where floating seaweed is prevalent. This seaweed acts a sort of blanket absorbing heat from the sun allowing the cold-blooded reptiles to reach higher temperatures which increases their metabolism allowing them to eat more and grow faster.