NEWS

This Is How Scientists Catch A Turtle In The Ocean 'Rodeo Style'

They put their body on the line.

13/01/2017 9:59 AM AEDT | Updated 13/01/2017 12:46 PM AEDT

Turtles have an almost mystical ability to return to their nesting beach from thousands of kilometres away, and scientists have long wanted to discover how their 'internal compass' works.

To get a satellite tracker on these majestic beasts though, you first have to catch them. James Cook University research fellow Takahiro Shimada told The Huffington Post Australia it involved a fair bit of skill and a lot of courage.

"Initially it was a bit intimidating because the animals are actually very big and especially in deeper water, it's a bit scary," he said.

James Cook University
Catching a turtle is not for novices.

"With more experience, we know a safe method to use and it's very efficient.

"We go out via speedboat looking for turtles and once we find one, they usually notice us straight away and swim off. We chase them and once we're as close as about one metre, you basically dive in and grab it."

This is called the Rodeo capture, and please, don't try this at home.

He and the team tagged 100 turtles, and of data retrieved from 20 of them, he found their uncanny navigational ability had something to do with the sunrise.

"We know that turtles have an extraordinary ability to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres to their favourite grazing locations but we wanted to know whether they could find their way back if they were dropped off in a place they'd never been before.

"If you like, we 'kidnapped' the turtles and dropped them off in unfamiliar waters and almost all of them made it back tot heir capture spot."

James Cook University
A turtle with a satellite tracker.

He said the turtles stopped and changed direction in the hours around sunrise.

"Something happens in the early morning that gives them their cues -- it could be the sunlight itself so they know due east. Some birds exhibit similar behaviour but they are using polarised light, because it's easiest to use when the sun is close to the horizon.

"We just don't know."

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