To learn more about marine life, scientists often attach instrumented tags to animals and record data on their environment and behavior. But these tags could drag down the movements of young turtles, making it harder for the animals to complete long journeys across the ocean.
This isn’t the first time that researchers have reported the ill effects of tags. In one study, a team found that birds fitted with tags have to expend more energy. Even when the instruments were less than 1% of their weight, tagged penguins took longer to find food and had less fat.
The researchers searched scientific papers published from 2000 to 2012 and found that tagging of marine turtles was mentioned in about 50 papers per year. Since young turtles have to migrate long distances, “long-term attachment of instruments with high drag costs may have considerable ecological implications,” the authorswriteinMethods in Ecology and Evolution.
There is one thing that scientists can do to help the animals out: Turtles are often encrusted with barnacles that also increase drag. So cleaning off the barnacles “may offset the increased drag from instrumentation,” the authors note.