Sea turtle carcasses deployed for data on turtle deaths
Dead men tell no tales, but scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science are hoping for better luck from some dead loggerhead turtles. Hundreds of turtles wash up on the shore at Chesapeake Bay each summer, but determining the exact conditions of their deaths has been difficult. While some of the injuries on these turtles are evident, loggerhead corpses are now being employed to help figure exactly which part of the ocean puts turtles in so much danger.
The dead loggerheads aren’t just being dumped back in the ocean of course. Putting them into the water as they were found on the beach would basically amount throwing the bodies away, since the remaining shell and minimal tissue would sink or be picked apart before it could reenact its initial journey to the beach. For buoyancy, each corpse is instead packed with styrofoam without too much worry about anatomical accuracy— nobody is bothering to carve out artificial flippers for this experiment. They are bothering to outfit each shell with a GPS tracking device, which will gather data on the recycled body’s route to the shore.
Developing data on the dead
Once the tracked-turtles turn up on shore, their journeys will be compared with data from much more mundane bucket drifters. As their name implies, bucket drifters are built from plastic buckets, but carry sensors to record wind speeds, water temperature, and more. The hope is that these two data sets will reveal some patterns about what conditions send a dead turtle to what beach. That will then allow researchers to look for potential ‘hot spots’ that are likely to feature higher turtle mortality rates, possibly from getting caught in trash, fishing gear, or even lower water temperatures. These models should then allow for better targeting of conservation efforts, since while repurposing these turtles’ bodies for this research is a fairly noble effort, everyone would be happier if there weren’t so many potential participants.
Source: 'Frankenturtles' Set Adrift in Chesapeake Bay by Richard Farrell, Seeker