Tagging Turtles

There are several ways that our patients many be tagged prior to their release, each having a different purpose. The most common tag used is the PIT tag (Passive Integrated Transponder tag) or microchip, such as used in pets. This is applied through a needle into the muscle of the flipper and is a permanent tag. The tag is used to identify the animal, although there is nothing external to show the turtle has been tagged. It must be scanned with a special scanner to read the unique number on the tag. This type of tag is used in all patients larger than hatchlings (juvenile through adult stages).


Another type of tag that is used is flipper tags. These tags are external tags that are applied to either front or rear flippers. These tags will eventually fall off, so they are not permanent, but can be easily seen externally, making it obvious that the turtle is tagged. Each tag has a unique alphanumeric code. These tags can be applied to larger juveniles through adults and are generally used in combination with the PIT tags.

A third tag type is the satellite transmitter that is attached to the turtle’s carapace (upper shell). Depending on the type of transmitter used, this tag sends information via satellite relating to GPS location, diving patterns, light levels, temperature, etc. Battery life for these tags ranges from several months to two years, depending on the amount of data being collected. These tags are designed to fall off after several years.

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In the last month, LMC hospital has received two stranded sea turtles, Isabella and Checkers, which has previously been tagged. It turned out that both turtles were patients in this hospital years ago. Isabella was originally brought to the center in 2010 after being caught offshore by a fisherman. She was treated, released, and then was recaptured by another fisherman from the beach four years later. Fortunately, this time, the turtle was hooked externally and didn’t require much care. Isabella was released just a few days after the hook was removed. The turtle had grown significantly in the four years and was in excellent health and body condition when it was recaptured.

Checkers had originally been found floating in 2011, was treated for the flotation disorder, and released in 2012. This month, Checkers was found floating after it was struck by a motor craft, causing substantial injury to its carapace and plastron. Fortunately, the lungs and spine were spared. It is likely the turtle will make a full recovery, although it will take several months to heal. Checkers, too, had grown significantly and had been in good health prior to developing the flotation issue probably caused by eating bad food. Both of these recaptures show us that the turtles that are being released following rehabilitation, are adapting back to life in the wild and are thriving, but of course they are exposed to the same hazards that all wild turtles must endure. Had these turtles not been tagged prior to release, we would never have gained this information from them.