Tracking a leatherback turtle through Hurricane Florence

Popular Science shows what it takes to get data sometimes – when the enormous marine reptile you affixed your tracking equipment to carries on migrating right into a major hurricane:

Over the next few months, members of the non-profit, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc, watched as Isla the sea turtle visited the beach a few more time to lay new clutches of fragile eggs in the sand, before starting her late summer migration north along the East Coast.

“We’re monitoring where she is right now, and it just happens to be in the middle of a hurricane,” Kelly Martin says.

Isla is now off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to the north of where Hurricane Florence made landfall late last week. For a while it seemed like she would get caught in the massive storm as it slid past the coast. She wound up north of the worst of it, but still experienced rough seas over the weekend. Even before the hurricane hit, she surfaced in an area where waves reached 14 feet high.

“Turtles are air breathers, so they need to come to the surface periodically to breathe, but I suspect many dive below the surface to weather the storms,” Kate Mansfield, director of the Marine Turtle Research Group at the University of Central Florida, says in an email. “I have tracked turtles through some storms in the past and never saw any sort of movement that suggested they were trying to get away from the storm (or that the storms shifted their paths). The turtles I tracked were larger juveniles—at that size they can dive 100s of meters deep.”

There’s still a lot we don’t know about animals in hurricanes, and it will take more than occasional bits of data to really understand how different species act in the system. Often the data we get on animals in hurricane is gathered by luck, when animals like Isla that have already been tagged cross paths with a storm.

In part because of the expense, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc. is only tracking one animal this season—Isla. They’re thrilled to have the chance to see how Isla (and by extension other leatherbacks) might behave in a hurricane. In the end, to the people participating, the research is more than worth the cost.

The whole story’s worth a read.
If you’d rather just get the data straight, though, you can follow Isla on Twitter: