Another challenge for researchers was feeding the growing numbers of hatchlings in their laboratories. Since no one had tried rearing newly hatched loggerheads in such numbers before, the scientists had to answer such questions as how much food does a baby loggerhead require, recalled Crowder. "We decided to use 10 percent of their body weight per day as a ration," he said.
Another uncertainty was what to feed them. Investigators decided on a menu of mostly shrimp, laced with extra vitamins and minerals. "They just gobbled that down," he added. "And they've grown really rapidly."
As part of the research, which was funded mainly by a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the scientists are also conducting growth studies that require repeated measurements of both turtles and their food.
The loggerheads get transported to the sea about three months later than they would have naturally. "We're basically taking them to where they would have been if they hadn't gotten waylaid," Crowder said. "In the process, they probably survive that interval way better than they would have on their own."
In planning their project, the researchers tried to address concerns that they might be interfering with the animals' abilities to migrate. But studies at FAU and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that even hatchling loggerhead turtles can sense and use the global magnetic field, he added. "So, based on that work, when we plop them into the Gulf Stream we think they'll be able to access the latitude and longitude," Crowder said.