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Aquarium tracks young turtles to learn more about them

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FORT FISHER, NC (WWAY) -- A new program at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is keeping tabs on some young sea turtles. The staff has tagged the reptiles with trackers for the very first time.

Loggerhead turtles are mysterious creatures, as they spend most of the their life navigating the deep blue sea. North Carolina beaches are home to loggerhead hatchlings, but only for a short while.

Aquarium curator Hap Fatzinger says, "Even when they hatch off the beaches, it is typically 15 to 20 years before a turtle that hatches from our beaches may make it back to our coastline to nest."

This year, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is playing detective. It has attached battery-powered satellite transmitters to track the turtles.

"The technology has finally made it possible to make the tags small enough to go onto these small turtles," Fatzinger said. "With these tags, we can track their movements when they are in the open ocean."

Because the transmitters are so small, researchers expect to only receive about a year's worth of data. They say that is plenty.

"It really helps us fill in some of the information of what happens to these turtles once they have left the aquarium's care and gone back out into the open ocean," Fatzinger said.

The turtles have already taught researchers about their journey. The scientists hope to track future generations of loggerheads hopefully for even longer stretches of time.

"You can see really neat patterns of where they follow the edge of the Gulf Stream, where the cold water butts up to the warm water; kind of staying along those edges there," Fatzinger said.

Just one of the turtle trackers costs a couple thousand dollars. It as an investment researchers say is well worth it.

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