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Sir Thomas Turtleton roams far and wide

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Sir Thomas Turtleton roams far and wide
13Jun 2012

Sir Thomas Turtleton, the adult satellite-tagged and tracked turtle released by the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee on Saturday, 2nd June has made good use of his newfound freedom.

By Monday, 11th June, the 600-plus pound male Green Sea Turtle had travelled 372km from his release point into the North Sound at Dragon Bay, Grand Cayman to reach the continental shelf off the coast of Honduras, near the border of Nicaragua.

Sir Thomas Turtleton began his migration swim southbound from Grand Cayman at approximately 11:00am EST on Sunday, 3rd June.

At his last position fix, the water depth was between 100 metres and 200 metres (328 to 656 feet) and he was still heading southwest. His average speed had slowed down upon reaching the shallower water.

So far on his journey Sir Thomas Turtleton has averaged a speed of approximately 2.3 km/hr (1.4 mph). Over a set of 4-hour sampling periods, his maximum dive duration has ranged from 21 to 24 minutes, and percentage of time underwater has ranged from 93% to 97%.

His movements are being monitored as part of the Cayman Turtle Centre’s “Tag and Track” release programme, which was inaugurated earlier this year with the release of “Jerry” – the Cayman Turtle Centre’s first satellite-tracked turtle.

As part of the Tag and Track programme, Green Sea Turtles fitted with satellite transmitters are released into the ocean and monitored online.  When the animal surfaces during a transmission period, the tag sends a signal to a satellite, indicating its location.

Sir Thomas Turtleton can be followed online at the www.seaturtle.org  link shown on the Cayman Turtle Centre webpage at www.turtle.ky/current-project

To optimise battery life versus probability of successful transmissions during ARGOS satellite overpasses, Sir Thomas’ satellite tag is programmed to transmit to the ARGOS satellite when at the surface during an uplink time window of 6 hours, repeating every 54 hours (2.25 days).

The satellite tag has sensors so that it does not attempt to transmit when the turtle is underwater, only when it is at the surface. During intervening periods between uplink windows, the satellite tag collects turtle dive data and GPS position data for uploading during the next transmission window.

When the ARGOS satellite successfully receives transmissions and location fixes, the location fixes will automatically appear on the map within one or two days.

Sir Thomas Turtleton was originally caught near Suriname, South America, in the 1970s as an adult male Green Sea Turtle, to be part of the initial captive breeding stock at Mariculture Ltd. - later renamed Cayman Turtle Centre. His age is estimated at 60 years, although it is not known precisely.

As Sir Thomas Turtleton travels following his release, the team at the Cayman Turtle Centre will be able to use the data as signs that he has successfully survived the re-introduction to the wild, and scientists, both at the Centre and in other research organisations around the world, can view and assess the turtle's migration path.

At the time of his release, Cayman Turtle Centre Chief Research Officer, Dr. Walter Mustin said: "Sir Thomas spent several decades in the wild honing his survival and foraging skills before becoming a breeder at the Cayman Turtle Centre; we have every expectation that those skills remain intact.  Two decades of CTF tagging studies have demonstrated that even Centre raised yearlings, raised on artificial feed and then released to the wild, successfully transition to wild diets, grow, migrate, mature,  return to Cayman to mate and nest, and survive.  Sir Thomas’ present track suggests that his migratory and survival skills are fully functional.”

Cayman Turtle Centre Managing Director Tim Adam added: “Sea turtles have two different areas where they spend a lot of time: their feeding range sometimes called their foraging range, and their breeding range where females lay their eggs.  Those two areas may be spread many hundreds of miles apart.  As we are now in the midst of breeding season for Green Sea turtles, it is possible that Sir Thomas Turtleton has chosen this area of the Caribbean around Central America as his breeding range.  Another interesting observation on his track is that for just about all of his migration path he was swimming perpendicular to the main sea currents, so that may have been a factor in his choice of initial destination.”

Since his release Sir Thomas Turtleton has become something of a worldwide celebrity, with news of his release in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee being reported by news media in locations as far afield as Australia and Russia.