MEPS 338:233-247 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps338233

Dispersal and dive patterns in gravid leatherback turtles during the nesting season in French Guiana

Sabrina Fossette1,2, Sandra Ferraroli1, Hideji Tanaka3,4,5, Yan Ropert-Coudert4, Nobuaki Arai3, Katsufumi Sato4, Yasuhiko Naito4, Yvon Le Maho1, Jean-Yves Georges1,*

1Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien-Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, Université Louis Pasteur, CNRS-7178, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg, France
2Université Louis Pasteur, 4 rue Blaise Pascal, 67070 Strasbourg, France
3Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University, Yoshida-Honmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
4National Institute of Polar Research, 1-9-10 Kaga, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 173-8515, Japan
5Present address: Graduate School of Fisheries Sciences, Hokkaido University, 3-1-1 Minato-cho, Hakodate 041-8611, Japan
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: We present the first combined analysis of diving behaviour and dispersal data collected from gravid leatherback turtles during 3 consecutive nesting seasons in French Guiana. In total, 23 turtles were fitted with Argos satellite transmitters and 16 individuals (including 6 that were concurrently satellite-tracked) were equipped with an electronic time-depth recorder for single inter-nesting intervals, i.e. between 2 consecutive ovi-positions. The leatherbacks dispersed over the continental shelf—from the coastal zone to the shelf break—and moved over 546.2 ± 154.1 km (mean ± SD) in waters of French Guiana and neighbouring Suriname. They mostly performed shallow (9.4 ± 9.2 m) and short (4.4 ± 3.4 min) dives with a slight diurnal pattern. They dived deeper as they moved away from the coast, suggesting that they were predominantly following the seabed. Inter-nesting intervals could be divided into 2 phases: the first comprised 75% of the time turtles spent at sea, during which they dived on average 47 min h–1, while the second was characterised by lower and more variable diving effort as the turtles returned to shore. The extended movements of leatherbacks and the fine analysis of dive shapes suggest that, in French Guiana, leatherbacks may feed during the inter-nesting interval, probably to compensate for the energy costs associated with reproduction. Consequently, this critically endangered species is exposed to a high risk of interaction with local fisheries over the continental shelf.

KEY WORDS: Marine turtles · Dermochelys coriacea · Diving behaviour · Bottom phase · Continental shelf · Foraging strategy · Satellite tracking · French Guiana

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