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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 457:181-192 (2012)  -  DOI:

Satellite tag attachment methods for tracking neonate sea turtles

Katherine L. Mansfield1,2,*, Jeanette Wyneken2, Daniel Rittschof3, Molly Walsh3, Chai W. Lim4, Paul M. Richards1

1Southeast Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
2Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida 33431, USA
3Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
4Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

ABSTRACT: Significant gaps exist in our understanding of early sea turtle life stages. Dispersal and habitat use of young oceanic sea turtles are largely inferred. Historically, available tracking technology and tag attachment methods were limited by small body sizes and rapid growth of neonate sea turtles. We tested methods in the laboratory for attaching small solar-powered satellite tags to neonate loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta, including harnesses, hard epoxy and neoprene-silicone mounts. Non-harness attachments were tested on turtles with clean carapaces and carapaces treated with an acrylic base-coat. Turtle growth and condition were measured among treatment and control groups. We tested surrogate solar cells, coated with clear silicone antifoulant for biofouling and performance, and field tested the performance of 7 solar-powered satellite tags on neonate loggerheads released off southeastern Florida (USA). Attachments with acrylic base-coats remained affixed 4- to 8-fold longer than on untreated carapaces. Harness attachments resulted in long-term tag retention (>60 d). However, harness and hard epoxy attachments did not adjust for turtle growth; we do not recommend these methods for rapidly growing neonate turtles. The method with longest retention was a neoprene-silicone attachment on an acrylic base-coat. Growth and condition were comparable among treated and control turtles using this flexible neoprene-silicone-acrylic attachment. Field-tested tags transmitted for 38 to 172 d. There were significant differences in charge rates of tags treated with an antifoulant and untreated tags; however, all tags charged optimally and transmitted high-quality locations. Our data suggest that small solar-powered tags are viable tools for monitoring the in-water behavior of oceanic sea turtles.

KEY WORDS: Caretta caretta · Oceanic stage sea turtles · Lost years · Remote tracking · Solar-powered satellite tags · Telemetry · Transmitter attachment methods

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Cite this article as: Mansfield KL, Wyneken J, Rittschof D, Walsh M, Lim CW, Richards PM (2012) Satellite tag attachment methods for tracking neonate sea turtles. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 457:181-192.

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