Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Turtle cam

With the Reunion Island trip finished (for me at least), its time to turn the blog over to a few dispatches from Shark Bay, Western Australia!  If you want to learn more about the Shark Bay project in general, we have a ton of information at  But, for the latest information, we'll be putting it here on the blog!

I'll now turn it over to Postdoctoral Scientist Dr. Jordy Thomson...


Introducing turtle-cam!

In late 2011 and 2012, I traveled to Shark Bay with a team of volunteer assistants to study the underwater habits of green and loggerhead sea turtles. We were interested in learning about their diets in hopes of better understanding the roles that these charismatic critters play in Shark Bay’s iconic seagrass ecosystem. The only problem is that turtles in Shark Bay are really skittish (I would be too considering the size of some of the sharks down there) and can spend more than 95% of their time submerged, so observing them in the wild is really difficult. Our solution? To temporarily attach a video camera to their shell to record their behaviour for us.

Here’s how it works. First, we catch a turtle by jumping off the boat and swimming it to the surface. Once the turtle is on board, we attach a short-term data-logging tag that includes a high-definition video camera, along with water temperature and depth sensors, to record its behavior. The tag is designed to stay attached to the turtle for 24-48 hours, during which it can record up to 4 hours of video, before it pops off and floats to the surface. Once at the surface, the tag’s radio beacon allows us to track it down, retrieve it and download the data.

Two of our volunteer field assistants, Fanny Vessaz and Tyler Roberts, about to release a green turtle with a video data-logging tag.
A screen capture of the very first camera deployment on a loggerhead turtle from October, 2011. Shortly after release, this turtle went back to doing what it does best… chomping on invertebrates like this large shell embedded in the sand.
One of our tags floating at the surface after releasing from a turtle (on a nice day, it’s not a bad place to spend some time on the water!).
The two trips were incredibly successful… we deployed cameras on 118 turtles, didn’t lose any tags and recorded nearly 400 hours of video footage! Thanks to the persistence and patience of our volunteers, we’ve now transcribed all of the footage and logged every time a turtle fed, interacted with another turtle or did pretty much anything else that was interesting from a scientific perspective. Over the next few posts, I’ll put up some screen caps from the footage to show some of the highlights and describe how we are using the video data to better understand marine turtle ecology and document some troubling changes in the Shark Bay ecosystem.


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