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Predation of satellite-tagged juvenile loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Kelly E. Hall, Michael C. James*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We present evidence of predator interactions with 8 juvenile loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta equipped with pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags (PSATs) following incidental capture in the Northwest Atlantic. Ingestion of PSATs occurred up to 5months after tagging and was identified by an abrupt change in depth distribution, a stabilization and/or increase in ambient temperature, and a marked drop in light levels to near zero, with cessation of diel light level cycling. In some cases, following expulsion from the digestive tract of predators, positively buoyant PSATs descended to the sea floor or beyond the programmed release depth threshold (1800 m), indicating that they remained tethered to the indigestible carapaces of turtles and that the entire turtle was originally consumed. PSAT data, combined with the sudden termination of satellite uplinks from 2 loggerheads also equipped with platform transmitting terminals, provided additional evidence of whole-turtle predation. PSAT data indicated that both endothermic and ectothermic sharks ingested tags. Based on PSAT-logged temperature data, dive patterns and geographic distribution, the following shark species were considered as candidate predators: white, porbeagle, shortfin mako, tiger and blue. This study represents the first analysis of data collected by loggerhead turtle PSAT tags inside predators. The results expand the list of shark species known to predate large juvenile loggerheads and point to the importance of acknowledging predation as an important source of mortality for loggerhead turtles in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.