Once at death’s door, high-tech turtle heads back out to sea

He’s perhaps one of the most sophisticated reptiles in the world. And now, fitted with his new GPS tracker, Terry the turtle is heading back out to sea.

Following a six-month rehabilitation at Melbourne Aquarium, scientists released Terry at Mallacoota in East Gippsland at the end of February.

A couple of weeks earlier, researchers fit him with a satellite tag that will allow them, and the general public, to track his oceanic journey, which is expected to take him up the north eastern coastline of Australia.

Dr Brett De Poister making sure the satellite tag is on properly. Photo: Eden Borella.

“Generally speaking sea turtles do come from the north,” said Aquariums Exhibit Manager Tereza Todd.

“It’s where their eggs are laid. So generally speaking, for this animal to reproduce it does have to go further north into warmer waters.”

“Having said that though, there are a large population of sea turtles that live in the colder climates of Australia.”

Tereza Todd and Dr Brett De Poister have kept a close eye on Terry since he was found washed up on a beach on the Mornington Peninsula in August. He was suffering from pneumonia and, at just seven kilos, was dangerously underweight.

He now weighs more than double that, and has some time spent recent weeks preparing for release by swimming in the main tank of the aquarium with various other sea life.

Terry isn’t the only turtle to have a satellite tag attached to him after being released from the aquarium, with a previous patient having been tracked swimming to the west coast of Australia and then halfway to Africa.

Though they have rehabilitated many turtles and have attached satellite tags to them multiple times, the procedure always evolves over time due to changing technology.

Tereza Todd and Brett De Poister attaching the satellite tag to Terry the turtle. Photo: Eden Borella.

“We have to be very adamant that we are doing this procedure right,” said Todd, “because if we miss a step or don’t get the mixing right then it can jeopardise the satellite being put on right.”

The satellite tag will allow people to see the turtle’s exact location, what the temperature of the water is and if he is spending a lot of time at the surface of the water.

It will also allow aquarium staff to see if anything goes wrong and, if it does, they can attempt to go out and collect Terry.

Satellite tags are donated by the aquarium’s conservation fund, SEA LIFE Trust. The conservation fund is set up so aquarium staff and the public can learn more about animal rehabilitation.

Public donations help fund GPS tracking and various other projects at the aquarium.

A towel was put over Terry’s head to keep him calm while attaching the satellite tag. Photo: Eden Borella.

How long the satellite tag will last depends on the access to food Terry has. Previous turtle trackings have lasted three to 13 months, though researchers expect Terry’s tag to last five to eight months.

Todd says that she will be checking the satellite regularly when Terry is first released to make sure he is heading towards the north-east coast.

After a couple of months, Todd expects she’ll ‘only’ check in on him twice a day.

“We are privileged to be able to do this kind of work. We take a lot of pride in rehabbing these animals,” she said.

The general public can follow Terry’s journey  at: www.sealifetrust.org.au/our-campaigns/turtle-watch


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