GPS Tagged Leatherback Turtle in Monterey Bay
If you’ve been out on a tour with us recently then you know how eager our crew has been to locate the leatherback turtle that has a GPS transmitter on its back — and on Wednesday, July 5th, we found her!!!
This 6’+ female turtle was tagged by Scott Benson, lead investigator for the leatherback turtle ecology program last September off the San Mateo coast and she returned to California waters in the middle of June after overwintering in the equatorial central Pacific. She arrived west of San Clemente Island on June 14th and started making her way north. On June 17th she was rounding Pt. Conception, June 20th she was off San Simeon, June 21st she was cruising past the Big Sur Coast and on the 22nd she arrived in Carmel Bay (traveling about 45mi a day). Later that night on the 22nd she made a beeline to Moss Landing. She didn’t stay long and headed to Santa Cruz the next day and by the 24th was off Davenport. But then she came back! She’s been moving around the Monterey Bay since June 29th but before July 5th we could not locate her (her transmitted GPS locations were often hours old by the time we got them).
She’s been gorging on jellies (mostly sea nettles and purple striped jellies) — so much so that the salt glands in her eyes are working overtime expelling all the salt that comes with the jellies (they’re almost entirely made up of sea water).
Leatherback turtle ecology research is being conducted by NOAA/SWFSC – Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program under ESA permit #15634. The above image shows this turtle’s approximately 6000 mile roundtrip track, which is a track very similar to movements documented previously from California waters. Researchers are hopeful the transmitter will continue to function through September to provide a full year of crucial data for this endangered species.
For more information regarding large-scale movements and high-use areas of western Pacific leatherbacks, see here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/ES11-00053.1/full
If you’re out on the water, be turtle-wise. Leatherbacks are inconspicuous and extremely vulnerable to boat strikes. It’s best to exercise caution and maintain a safe distance when viewing.