MEPS 557:247-259 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11874

Spatial variation in directional swimming enables juvenile sea turtles to reach and remain in productive waters

F. Christiansen1,2,*, N. F. Putman3,4, R. Farman5, D. M. Parker6, M. R. Rice7, J. J. Polovina8, G. H. Balazs8, G. C. Hays1

1Deakin University, Geelong. Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Warrnambool Campus, VIC 3280, Australia
2Cetacean Research Unit, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
3Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149, USA
4Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 4301 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149, USA
5Aquarium des Lagons, B.P. 8185, Nouméa 98807, Nouvelle-Calédonie
6Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawaii, 2032 SE Oregon State University Drive, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA
7Hawaii Preparatory Academy, 65-1692 Kohala Mountain Road, Kamuela, Hawaii 96743, USA
8Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2570 Dole Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ocean currents play an important role in the movement and distribution of organisms and for small animals it is often assumed that their movements in the ocean are determined by passive drift. Here we challenge this assumption by conducting an experiment at the scale of an entire ocean basin to test whether small (∼35 cm) juvenile loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta move independently of ocean currents. By comparing the trajectories of 46 satellite tracked turtles (11502 positions, 12850 tracking days) with Lagrangian drifters (3716303 positions, 927529 tracking days) and virtual particles tracked within the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM), we found that in certain areas turtles moved in a similar manner to ocean currents, but in other areas turtle movement was markedly different from ocean currents, with turtles moving to areas thousands of kilometres from where they would have drifted passively. We further found that turtles were distributed in more-productive areas than would be expected if their movement depended on passive transport only. These findings demonstrate that regional variation in directional swimming contributes to young sea turtles reaching more favourable developmental habitats and supports laboratory work suggesting that young turtles have a map sense to determine their location in a seemingly featureless ocean.


KEY WORDS: Animal tracking · Caretta caretta · HYCOM · Lagrangian drifters · Movement ecology · Ocean currents


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Cite this article as: Christiansen F, Putman NF, Farman R, Parker DM and others (2016) Spatial variation in directional swimming enables juvenile sea turtles to reach and remain in productive waters. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 557:247-259. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11874

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