A team of NOAA scientists from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and AOML conducted a survey aboard the NOAA research vessel Hildebrand to capture, tag and release leatherback sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The survey, which took place off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, was the first directed research on leatherbacks in Gulf waters. The team of scientists sought to obtain accurate information on these endangered animals in order to answer questions relating to habitat use, migrations, and distribution within the Gulf region. After locating a turtle with help from spotters in NOAA aircraft, each turtle was secured with a net and brought to the vessel to be measured and equipped with a satellite tag, which will collect data on dive patterns and water temperatures in addition to long-term movement. The team successfully tagged a total of six turtles during the survey. The team also assisted in the scheduled release of a female leatherback that had stranded earlier in September off of Fort Walton Beach, FL. The turtle, which had been rehabilitated at the local Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, was brought aboard the R/V Hildebrand in Destin, FL and successfully released 20 miles offshore.
Photo credit: NOAA
- The NOAA team readies the R/V Hildebrand for the release of a rehabilitated leatherback. Image credit: Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
- A leatherback sea turtle is captured with a net off the bow of the R/V Hildebrand in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: NOAA
- The NOAA team successfully captured, tagged, and released six leatherback turtles during the five-day survey. Image credit: NOAA
- The NOAA team along with personnel from the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park work to secure a leatherback prior to release. Image credit: Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
- NOAA scientists secure a leatherback turtle before applying a satellite tag on the back of the R/V Hildebrand. Image credit: NOAA