Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Adorable sea turtles don poop-catching swimsuits for science

OCTOBER 5, 2015

by Eric Hopton

Meet the half-shell heroes who have donated their excrement to science. It’s loggerhead haute-couture with a poop capture mode, and these Aussie turtles are doing their bit for conservation.

poop bathing suit
It all started when researchers at the University of Queensland wanted to collect loggerhead feces. (No, it’s not some weird hobby.) These guys were studying the diet of endangered sea turtles to help find their feeding areas, and they hoped this would lead to better ways to protect the species.

But the scientists ran into a problem. The turtles can weigh up to 260 pounds, and catching their poop as they swam in the ocean was no easy job.

So Owen Coffee, a PhD student at UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, with fellow UQ researcher Carmen da Silva, began to explore possible solutions. They captured six loggerhead sea turtles and kept them in seawater tanks at UQ’s Moreton Bay Research Station until they pooped.

“However, it was challenging to collect the entire faecal sample once it dispersed into the water. So we developed a flexible funnel anchored to the shell, to fit over the turtle’s tail. But this was not a good answer either. Because the animals are so large, it was difficult to keep the devices in place,” said Coffee.

A brilliant idea
Then Doctor Kathy Townsend, Moreton Bay’s education coordinator, remembered that researchers had previously developed soft, flexible harnesses when studying the vision of sea turtle hatchlings. The harnesses were made out of swimsuit material and were a snug fit on the turtle’s shell.

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