Although we think we know so much about sea turtles, we actually do not. In an effort to fill that knowledge gap, researchers place trackers or PIT tags and identification numbers on turtles to learn more about their mating, nesting and migratory patterns. ‘PIT’ is an abbreviation for passive integrated transponders, which are tracking tags that do not require power to transmit data. They are injected into the flipper with a very small microchip inside, which allows researchers to track their movement by computer.
Along with the PIT tag is a metal identification number, usually placed on their front right flipper to assist researchers in identification data during nesting season. This helps us determine how many times this specific turtle has nested per season, how many years in between nesting seasons and helps to give us a rough estimate on its age.
On the other hand, another tracking device is known as a polar orbiting satellite, which is also commonly used as tracking devices (as shown above). NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization) operates these satellites, as they also use them to monitor global weather patterns.
Regardless of which trackers researchers choose to use, they are routinely placed while the ‘camouflaging’ process happens during nesting. Trackers can also be placed on a sick or injured turtle at a rehabilitation/rescue center before he/she is released. These turtles are then tracked by scientists, biologists and conservationists worldwide.
Knowledge of marine turtle migration patterns help researchers establish pathway patterns shown by satellites during migration. This is incredibly important in order to reduce interaction with fishing vessels, as marine turtles are often accidentally caught by fishing gear. Even without active fishing vessels, gear, especially nets, can be misplaced, intentionally discarded, lost, etc.