The Journey of Adelita
The journey of Adelita the sea turtle is the true story of a resilient loggerhead sea turtle, wearing a state-of-the-art satellite transmitter, who made her way from Baja California, Mexico to the shores of her birthplace in Japan, some 6,000 miles and 368 days across the Pacific ocean.
Caught by a fisherman in the Baja California Mexico, she was raised in captivity. Nobody knew her age, maybe a few years old based on her size (about as big as a large plate). Mexican researchers eventually got hold of her and decided to put her in captivity, becoming involved in genetic studies. People were still-hunting and eating turtles in the area.
Eventually Adelita met Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, then a graduate student studying turtles in Baja California Sur (a co-founder of SEE Turtles). J. and his colleagues wanted to know where the loggerheads came from; some nest along the nearby Mexican Pacific coast and others as far away as Japan. With the turtle quickly outgrowing its tank, the researchers decided to release her back to the ocean. Satellite tagging, following an animal’s movements with transmitters, was a new tool in studying wildlife. Nichols was given a recycled transmitter and a fisherman helped to figure out how to attach it to her shell (photo at right).
With no idea if the transmitter would work or where she would go, the team put Adelita into the water on August 10, 1996. Having spent most of her life in small tanks, at first she didn’t realize she was free and swam around the outside of the tank. Then she figured it out and disappeared into the Pacific.
For a year, the young loggerhead made its way west, past Hawaii, eventually reaching the coast of Japan (map at right). Her journey measured 9,000 miles, crossing a barren area of ocean that scientists previously believed was a barrier to migration. The first creature tracked across an entire ocean, Adelita’s story ended in mystery. The transmitter stopped sending signals off the coast of Japan, in an area frequented by fishing boats.
Despite the mystery, Adelita’s Journey had a far reaching impact, changing perceptions about turtle migration, how different countries are linked by wildlife, and capturing the imagination of thousands. At one point during the trip, as many as 50 students would contact the researchers per day, representatives of thousands of children watching one of the internet’s first live reality shows.
Now fishermen from Baja, Hawaii, and Japan collaborate on ways to protect turtles while fishing (see photo at right). Many schools in the US, Mexico, and Japan have integrated conservation studies and programs, including the satellite tracking of sea turtles and their incredible travels across and around the Pacific Ocean.
What is SEE Turtles?
We're a non-profit organization that promotes conservation travel through wildlife tours that help protect endangered species. We work with quality tour operators who have passed our criteria to ensure low environmental impact. We're part of The Ocean Foundation.
Contact us for more information on Adelita the sea turtle.
Resources and Media Coverage
Sea Turtle Tracking
SeaTurtle.org Satellite Tracking - Follow dozens of turtles and other wildlife on their migrations
Tour de Turtles - Sea Turtle Conservancy
NPR: Living on Earth Reporters follow J. Nichols and Mexican partners as they capture, tag, and release turtles in Baja (March 2001)
CNN: Loggerhead Sea Turtles Go the Distance (July, 1999)
BBC News: Long Distance Turtles Log a Record (July, 1999)