TurtleCam: Exploring the Secret Life of Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles


With a few hours left in our campaign to raise money to study endangered leatherbacks, it is a good time to pause and thank all the people who made Project TurtleCam successful.  Many thanks to:
Alan & Sala, Margaret, Georgette, Margaret, Ben, Mitchell, Joy, Joyce, Juli, Julia, Phil, Edward, Christopher, Susan, Andrew, Susan, Annamarie, Franco, Jess, Sally, Sara, Sarah, Janice, Jason, Jean, Maurice, Carlie, Katelyn, Kathleen, Katrina, Dana, Thomas, Tim & Emily, Olivia, William (Chip), Denise, Dina, Dobna, Rex, Nicole, Nicole, Alicia, Alison, Amy, Mary, Burgess, Robin, Ronald, Fred, Frederick, Elizabeth, Ellen, Kaitlyn, Frank, Michael, Lonny, Richard, Steve, Douglas, Chuck, Clara, Colette, Gretchen, Jeffrey, Jennifer, Kelly, Gretchen, Kenneth, J R, Jeffrey, James, Dayla, Deborah, Lori, Alexandria, Sheila, Joanne, Kristina, Danielle, Rick, Michele, Mary J, Bob, Paige & Shea, Dana, Mike, Teague, Peter & Peggy, Rod & Lin, Leigh & Paige, Noah & Maeve, Jen G., Juli, Allison, Ronald, and Patricia

And a big thank you to the media for covering our project and spreading the word about TurtleCam: Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times, Discovery Channel, NPR's Living Lab and WBUR

Stay tuned for Phase 2 of TurtleCam and be sure to say hello if you are ever in Woods Hole.  Soon an Oceanus video with an overview of our project will be published and we will post the link here and also on our website.

Amy and Kara


It takes a village, and today it took the generous support of Rick, Chip, Sean, Fred, Sally, Nicole, Susan, Ellen, Michele, Janice and Mary to bring Project TurtleCam past its goal- Fred said it best: "I love WHOI, I love turtles, I love science, I love cool cams that give us a new perspective on things - this one is a no-brainer, for sure!" Thank you, Thank you, Thank you - We are just getting started! THANK YOU Cape Cod Times but a very special thank you to Jean.

We still have 1 day left and will push our goal past 10K so please donate one more time for ocean science innovation and research!


With just 2 days left to meet our goal and raise just $680, we are putting forth one more big push today.  Please spread the word and thank you for helping us get this far.  Our August field site off of Osterville just had a whale siting this past week.  What a productive area and we can't wait to get back there next spring to take a closer look with TurtleCam!


The 2015 field season is winding down and with only a little over two weeks left to raise $1800 for a third field day, we are reaching out to our supporters to give us that next push of donations so we can make our goal.  Only 18 more people need to donate $100.  Help us help the leatherbacks and reach a pilot study milestone.  Thank you WBUR Boston for your support as well as Cape Cod Times for another newspaper article to promote our project.


We've had an exciting couple of days on the water this week with TurtleCam, culminating in getting our first tag out on a leatherback Thursday!! Many thanks to our Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Project TurtleCam supporters and donors, we couldn't do this without you! Special thanks to our tireless spotter pilot George Purmont for grinding it out with us during some poor conditions and Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for relaying real-time sea turtle sightings that put us in a great spot. We have reached 75% of our crowd funding goal - please consider helping us get to 100% for a fully funded TurtleCam effort!  23 days left, donate today! Next step is to modify our tag attachment to eliminate the tether so we get better acoustic tracking with REMUS.

There is a reason why we are one of only three teams worldwide trying to tag leatherbacks in the open ocean, and the first team to try and track a leatherback with an AUV. This work is incredibly challenging and requires a perfect alignment of weather conditions, turtles, and team work. Nobody said it would be easy, but we are making it happen! Crossing fingers for funding for a third day!

Bonus Footage:

Expedition Day 1 footage:

UPDATE #7 Sept 2nd

We raised enough money to go out for one day and we have been waiting for good weather and turtle sightings. Those two things converged yesterday. Although our primary charter vessel was unavailable, we were able to reconfigure our ops for a smaller boat. George, our spotter pilot, took off from New Bedford and met Kara Dodge, Mike Dodge, Daniel Cojanu (of Undercurrent Productions) and me out on our 7 meter RHIB.  It was tight with all our gear, but we zoomed out 17 miles offshore of Osterville where we got kicked around for many hours with sloppy seas thanks to an inaccurate marine forecast. We sent George back to ground for 1.5 hours and at 1130 the winds settled down a bit and he came back out. 

After a morning of radio silence and ebbing morale, we welcomed the sound of static followed by George's voice enthusiastically echoing 'BINGO' when he spotted our first turtle of the day. The team sprang into action, racing 1 mile offshore to his coordinates. The next 2 hours were filled with turtle sightings and we zoomed one way and then another coming within feet and seconds of getting a tag on. 

Well guess what? According to Dr. Dodge the turtles were as elusive as they get, spending 1 minute or less on the surface before diving and staying down for a long time. That meant we had 1 minute to sight, then speed over, sneak up and tag.  Turns out it is the hardest thing I have ever tried and it is infinitely harder than tagging white sharks! The turtles' short surfacing behavior, combined with a sloppy sea state and unfavorable winds, made for an exciting but frustrating day.

Why did they dive so quickly???  Hmm not sure but our best guess is that the jellies were deep so the turtles only came up for a quick breath and went right back down to feed.  We saw jellyfish throughout the day including the leatherbacks' favored prey species (sea nettles, lion's mane and moon jellies), but most were deep in the water column. We collected some jellyfish for leatherback feeding (stable isotope analysis) and energetics (bomb calorimetry) studies.

The forecast is looking OK for Thursday so we hope to raise a few more bucks so we can go back out before the season is over. Donate today! 

Thanks for your support!

The TurtleCam team.

PS - Big thanks to our friends who run the MA Audubon sea turtle sightings hotline (1-888-SEA-TURT) for relaying real-time reports to us, and to all of the people who call in their sea turtle sightings! Keep up the great work.

UPDATE #6 Aug 27th

Thanks to the generous support of so many people and organizations, we were able to send our pilot, George, in the air today.  He spotted one Leatherback in the sound but we are hoping for 2-3 reliable sightings.  He will go back up tomorrow and, fingers crossed, TurtleCam hits the water on Saturday!  Stay tuned. 

And a special thank you to Hydroid for their very generous donation!

UPDATE # 5 Aug 20th

Tested TurtleCam Tag on a plexiglass turtle today at speeds up to 17 knots.  It stayed attached with one suction cup, great news!  Now we are ready for our first Leatherback.   Obama's flight restrictions will be lifted on Sunday and then we need a good recon day to find turtles.  Looks like Wed could be our first day out.  But we need to raise $1000 to get to 50% first. 

For pictures, check out twitter: @amylkukulya and REMUS (the AUV) on facebook for more TurtleCam and SharkCam news

Check out the front page article on the Cape Cod Times about TurtleCam and ProjectWHOI:

UPDATE #4 Aug 18th

Listen to Amy and Kara talk about TurtleCam on WCAI NPR's Living Lab program with host Heather Goldstone:

UPDATE #3 Aug 14th

Be sure to tune in Monday at 945 a.m. to WCAI NPR's Living Lab program to hear Amy and Kara discuss the Project with host Heather Goldstone

UPDATE #2 Aug 14th

We made front page of the Boston Globe Business Section today and Discovery Channel has donated and supported our project on their page:

UPDATE #1 Aug 13

Thanks to all those who have donated!  Your charity is making a difference and also picking up attention in the media to help raise awareness for endangered leatherback turtles. Keep it up!  Thanks Boston Globe for the article.  Keep up with updates on twitter as well: @amylkukulya


Leatherback sea turtles are one of the ocean's most mysterious creatures. These endangered turtles travel thousands of miles each year, from the tropics to cool northern waters to feed on jellyfish. Yet despite their enormous size and worldwide distribution, we know little about their day-to-day lives in the ocean, including where, when, and how they feed. Studying these enigmatic turtles at sea is not easy, because they spend most of their time underwater. The technology to follow and image them in open water has not been available—until now.

Introducing TurtleCam! 

In 2012 and 2013, we successfully followed and filmed tagged great white sharks using a WHOI REMUS-100 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). This “SharkCam” was so successful it was able to video document never-before-seen deep-water ambush attacks by great white sharks!

This year, we will use similar technology to tag turtles and investigate their behavior at sea with a REMUS we’re calling “TurtleCam.”

It works like an advanced version of the game “Marco Polo.” REMUS sends out a ping ('Marco'), and the transponder attached to the turtle replies (‘Polo’). REMUS then follows the turtle, capturing its movements on video and measuring the salinity, temperature, depth, and current speed in the water around it.

Video from TurtleCam will give us a unique look at leatherback turtles' behavior to help us interpret traditional (satellite and archival) tag data from turtles. We will be able to:

  • Answer questions about leatherback diet, feeding strategies, and dive behavior in under-studied but critically important New England coastal waters
  • Learn how to decrease threats like fishing gear entanglements, boat collisions, and plastic ingestion
  • Educate the public about conservation, protection, and recovery efforts for this endangered species

How can you help get TurtleCam in the water?

We have started getting turtle reports in the waters off Cape Cod where we will conduct our TurtleCam study. While we have tags* and the REMUS-100 ready to go, we need $10,000 to cover the cost of field work operations. We need funds to charter a spotter plane to find turtles at sea. Once turtles are located, we will charter a vessel for WHOI researchers to tag and track the turtles with REMUS, using the spotter plane to support tagging operations. We anticipate that funds from ProjectWHOI will support two to three days of field work.

$25 will buy
batteries and suction cups for the tags
$100 will buy a half-hour of aerial survey time
$200 will buy an hour of charter boat time
$750 will allow us to charter the boat or the plane for half a day
$1,500 will allow us to charter the plane or the boat for a full day
$2,000 will give you naming rights to a tagged turtle

Of course, a donation in any amount will help! Make your donation now and stay tuned to see what we find as we journey into the subsea world of leatherback turtles!

Thank you!


TurtleCam Team

Amy Kukulya is an Ocean Vehicle Operations Engineer and a recognized authority in management and operations of AUV systems at WHOI. She has either led or participated in over 75 oceanographic expeditions over the past 14 years. Working with underwater robots has brought her to the Arctic and Antarctica while working on the advancement of scientific applications for AUVs. She is passionate about promoting education and outreach initiatives and has been named a Wowster by the Governor's office. Her work has also been shown on several Discovery Channel and PBS productions.

Kara Dodge is a postdoctoral research scientist with expertise in using satellite and acoustic telemetry, oceanographic data and stable isotope analysis to investigate behavior and feeding ecology of large pelagic species. She has published scientific papers on leatherback sea turtle movements, behavior, habitat, feeding, and physiology. Her research has been covered in the popular press, including the Boston Globe, BBC and New York Times.


* (tags funded by Discovery Channel)

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Project managers who do not reach their crowdfunding goal within the time allotted by their campaign will still receive the funds raised, but will be required to devote the funds to a similar purpose within their WHOI lab or department. Funds not used within one year of the campaign end date will be transferred to an Institution general operating account and the project manager's crowdfunding account will be closed.

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