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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 353:289-301 (2008)  -  DOI:

Influence of ocean currents on long-distance movement of leatherback sea turtles in the Southwest Indian Ocean

Paolo Lambardi1, Johann R. E. Lutjeharms2, Resi Mencacci1, Graeme C. Hays3, Paolo Luschi1,*

1Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Pisa, Via A. Volta 6, 56126 Pisa, Italy
2Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa
3Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea spend most of their life in oceanic environments, whose physical and biological characteristics are primarily forged by sea current circulation. Water mass movements can mechanically act on swimming turtles, thus determining their routes, and can differentially distribute their planktonic prey. By integrating satellite tracking data with contemporaneous remote-sensing information, we analysed the post-nesting journeys of 9 leatherbacks with respect to oceanographic surface conditions. Tracked turtles showed large variations in migration routes and in final destinations, apparently without heading for specific foraging areas. Their complex tracks spread over wide regions around South Africa. Leatherbacks were greatly influenced by the currents encountered during their movements, with their trajectories displaying curves or revolutions in the presence of (and in accordance with) rotating water masses. An impressive similarity was observed between large parts of the turtle routes and those of surface drifters tracked in the same regions. Finally, leatherbacks remained associated for long periods with specific oceanographic features, which most probably offered them profitable foraging opportunities. These results agree with previous findings in showing a strong influence of oceanic currents and mesoscale features on the movements of South African leatherbacks, and additionally identify the role of current-related features in causing the observed route variability and in determining high-quality foraging hotspots for leatherbacks moving in the ocean.

KEY WORDS: Satellite telemetry · Dermochelys · Remote sensing · Oceanography · Current drift

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Cite this article as: Lambardi P, Lutjeharms JRE, Mencacci R, Hays GC, Luschi P (2008) Influence of ocean currents on long-distance movement of leatherback sea turtles in the Southwest Indian Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 353:289-301.

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