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Using Sonar to Protect Sea Turtles

Sonar Image of Swimming Sea Turtle

Do you see it? This animated image shows a loggerhead turtle swimming in the ocean off of Cape Lookout, North Carolina. The image was captured using sonar.

National Ocean Service (NOS) researchers began testing out the use of sonar to investigate sea turtle abundance and habitats in coastal waters near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, this October.

This novel use of acoustic technology may lead to new ways to protect threatened and endangered species.

The survey follows the first successful use of sonar to document the size and distribution of loggerhead turtles in May.

During this expedition, researchers discovered an unusually high and unexplained concentration of loggerhead turtles at Cape Lookout Bight in May.

This group, the largest number of loggerheads ever documented at one location, is thought to include individuals from a population currently under consideration for ‘uplisting’ to endangered status.

Researchers hope to use newly-collected data to learn more about these turtles, and to better identify threats to their survival. Acoustic technology may also help scientists verify visual counts of surfacing sea turtles.

This research effort is a partnership between the NOS National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Duke University Marine Laboratory, North Carolina State University, and University of North Carolina – Wilmington.

The results of this effort will help NOAA and its partners determine the effectiveness of sonar technologies in detecting and observing sea turtles in their natural habitats. This will help NOAA protect, restore, and manage threatened loggerhead populations.