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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 322:259-267 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps322259

Do leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea forage during the breeding season? A combination of data-logging devices provide new insights

Andrew E. Myers*, Graeme C. Hays

Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

ABSTRACT: Animals which undertake migrations from foraging grounds to suitable breeding areas must adopt strategies in these new conditions in order to minimise the rate at which body condition deteriorates (which will occur due to oogenesis or provisioning for young). For some animals this involves continuing foraging, whereas for others the optimal strategy is to fast during the breeding season. The leatherback turtle undertakes long-distance migrations from temperate zones to tropical breeding areas, and in some of these areas it has been shown to exhibit diving behaviour indicative of foraging. We used conventional time–depth recorders and a single novel mouth-opening sensor to investigate the foraging behaviour of leatherback turtles in the southern Caribbean. Diving behaviour suggested attempted foraging on vertically migrating prey with significantly more diving to a more consistent depth occurring during the night. No obvious prey manipulation was detected by the mouth sensor, but rhythmic mouth opening did occur during specific phases of dives, suggesting that the turtle was relying on gustatory cues to sense its immediate environment. Patterns of diving in conjunction with these mouth-opening activities imply that leatherbacks are attempting to forage during the breeding season and that gustatory cues are important to leatherbacks.

KEY WORDS: Leatherback · Turtle · Diving · Foraging · Seal · Penguin · Data logger

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