STC Sea Turtle Blog

Leatherback turtle being satellite-tracked by STC found dead in Colombia

Caña the night she was tagged by STC in May

Caña the night she was tagged by STC in May

In May of this year, STC biologists tagged a leatherback turtle with a satellite transmitter after she nested at Chiriqui Beach, Panama. That same turtle, named “Caña” by local children, was spotted by tourists after it washed ashore in Salinas del Ray, Colombia in July. Caña was positively identified by her flipper tags and still-attached satellite transmitter.

After receiving information about Caña’s fate, STC began trying to piece together what happened to the massive turtle, which had been observed healthy and nesting just two months prior.

Caña’s transmitter began sending strong signals immediately after she was released. She even returned to nest one more time before beginning her migration east toward Colombia. Caña and her transmitter were providing invaluable scientific data and her migration route proved very interesting. For the first time one of STC’s satellite-tracked leatherbacks was heading to South America. STC researchers and thousands of people were tracking Caña’s journey online and could not wait to see where she would go next.

A map of Caña's journey

A map of Caña’s journey

In early July STC migration researcher Dan Evans noticed that Caña’s transmitter had been inactive for several days, which could have two possible explanations – that the transmitter had been damaged and could no longer send signals, or that Caña had not surfaced for some reason. The transmitter Caña was outfitted with is saltwater activated and sends a signal to orbiting satellites whenever the device breaks through the water’s surface, such as when she surfaces to breath or emerges onto shore.

Caña's tag

Caña’s tag

Evans was hesitant to jump to conclusions about Caña’s fate and hoped the transmitter was simply malfunctioning and would begin sending signals again soon. Days later, Caña’s transmitter began sending a very strong signal from the shores of Colombia. On July 8, STC received an email from the Environmental Corporation of the Atlantic in Barranquilla, Colombia, stating that a tourist had found a dead leatherback washed ashore with STC’s tags and contact information. It was Caña.

STC is still awaiting the results of Caña’s necropsy, but the satellite data is very telling. Her transmitter was inactive for three consecutive days, meaning she could have been trapped underwater and drowned. Colombian waters are filled with fishing nets that indiscriminately trap anything they entangle. It is likely that Caña met her fate in one of these nets.

Caña was found washed ashore in Colombia

Caña was found washed ashore in Colombia

Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles and can only hold their breath for extended periods of time, such as when they are inactive or sleeping. If Caña was in fact trapped in a net, her struggling would have caused her to drown fairly quickly, This is only one possible explanation, but it is the most likely explanation.

Although stories like this are very sad to share, they demonstrate how important it is for STC to keep tracking sea turtles and to raise awareness about the very real threats all sea turtles face.

More photos here