Hatchling pit tagged at sea life park in 2013 recovered
During our recent tagging trip to 22 PBR we recovered a very special honu. A juvenile honu with PIT tag number 4C3C602017 was captured at 1100 hours on 11/7/2023 at 22 Puako Beach Road. When we read the tag we noted that there was only one PIT tag (in left hind flipper) which is very unusual as we normally put one tag in each hind flipper. As we were measuring and assessing this turtle, George Balazs commented that he wondered if it might be one of the hatchlings that were PIT tagged at Sea Life Park prior to release into the wild. George, Robert Morris and Jeff Pawloski, had tagged some 1800 captive honu hatchlings before they were released shortly after hatching between 2013 and 2018 For information about this project please see Materials and Methods and/or ISTS Poster articles.
The next day, George did a google search to see if the tag of turtle number 231 (4C3C602017) could be found. Much to his surprise, it was indeed found…. Listed on data sheets posted on George’s website (GeorgHBalazs.com). This little hatchling was tagged by Jeff Pawloski on Sept. 22, 2013 and was released the next evening. It has not been seen since… UNTIL last Tuesday at Puako.
Where has this amazing honu been? We assume that it was out in the open ocean for a number of years as is characteristic of marine turtles. The thought has been that they normally spend 3-5 years out in the pelagic environment feeding on zooplankton before they transition to a benthic life along the shorelines of the Hawaiian islands. Turtle 231 has come to the shallows of the Puako reef after some years at sea and was captured on 11/7/23. At the time of capture it measured 45.2 cm (straight carapace length, SCL). Assuming it was about 5 cm (SCL) at the time is was released, it has grown roughly 40 cm or approximately 4 cm/year over the 10 years since its release.
There was another recovery made in 2015 of a SLP tagged hatchling. It was originally tagged on 9/13/2011 so it had been in the wild for a little over 4 years. From the time of release until it was recaptured, it grew at a rate of approximately 8.6 cm/year.
Another recovery of a tagged hatchling from sea life park occurred on April 22, 1992 at Kiholo Bay. Turtle H-268 (metal tag) was recovered with a small metal tag from SLP (E622). It had been tagged and released on 8/29/1989 (2.7 years earlier). At the time of capture, it measured 36.4 cm (SCL). Using the same logic as above, the turtle grew ~11.7 cm/year during its time out in the open ocean.
These are exciting and important recoveries that help to clarify a part of their life history that is still little understood. It is also reassuring that we are seeing some of the hatchlings that have been released by Sea Life Park and that they appear healthy and robust.