Leatherback Sea Turtle Captured off the Coast of Massachusetts was Originally Tagged in St. Kitts

A female leatherback sea turtle bearing flipper tags WC 2551 on the left and WC 2507 on the right was captured August 9th, 2012 off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA, by a research team led by Kara Dodge, a University of New Hampshire PhD student. These flipper tags have been tracked back to St. Kitts! The St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) received this very exciting news Tuesday via Prof. Julia Horrocks, the Coordinator of the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network’s (WIDECAST) Marine Turtle Tagging Centre at the University of West Indies in Barbados, who supply the flipper tags used by the SKSTMN.

Kitty on board the boat following transmitter placement (top left) Close up view of Kitty’s transmitter (top right). Photos courtesy of Kara Dodge 2012

Ms. Dodge’s research focuses on the movements and behaviour of leatherbacks in their foraging grounds off Cape Cod. Her team uses a breakaway hoopnet to catch them and then tracks them with GPS-linked satellite tags (see photos). This leatherback was only the second tagged female that had been captured over the course of the project, which has been running for four years and includes capture of adult males, females, and subadults. Following a health assessment and transmitter placement, the female was given the name Kitty and was released. The transmitter placed on her will provide important data over the course of the next few months and will enable scientists and the public to track her movements online. Kitty’s movements can now be tracked online by going to this link <http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?keyword=Kitty>.

Kitty was only the third leatherback sea turtle to be flipper tagged in St. Kitts during the SKSTMN’s first year of leatherback night patrols in 2005. She was originally tagged on 26 April 2005 while nesting on Keys Beach and then returned to nest on Keys Beach three times in 2007, once on North Friars in 2009, and twice on Keys Beach in 2011. The SKSTMN expects to see Kitty again on the nesting beaches in St. Kitts in 2013 if she follows her established schedule.

It is not unusual for female leatherback sea turtles to migrate over 10,000 miles between their nesting and foraging grounds. This highly migratory nature makes them a shared resource both regionally and internationally and drives home the importance of sharing critical biological information gathered on both the nesting beaches and foraging grounds. Fortunately for Kitty, St Kitts has already taken steps to protect her nesting ground through the designation of the UNESCO St. Mary’s Biosphere Reserve that includes Keys Beach, the main leatherback nesting beach on the island.

Leatherback sea turtles are classified globally as Critically Endangered because scientists have determined that their populations have been reduced by more than 80% over the last century. Only 1 in 1,000 leatherback sea turtle hatchlings will survive to adulthood, and the females that survive will not return to nest on our shores until they are around 25 years of age. Disturbing one of these ancient creatures during nesting carries a fine of EC$5,000. We urge all citizens to assist in efforts to conserve and protect sea turtles and their habitat so that they will be around for generations to come.

More information on Cape Cod leatherback research can be found at <http://www.tunalab.org>. For more information on sea turtles and regulations regarding them in St. Kitts please visit http://www.stkittsturtles.org. Please report any sea turtle sightings, nesting events, etc. to the Sea Turtle Hotline at 764-6664 or the St. Kitts Department of Marine Resources at 465-8045.

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