Satellite tracking of migrating loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) displaced in the open sea
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- Luschi, P., Hughes, G.R., Mencacci, R. et al. Marine Biology (2003) 143: 793. doi:10.1007/s00227-003-1117-5
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Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) are known to migrate towards fixed, individually-specific residential feeding grounds. To study their spatial behaviour and their navigational ability, five loggerheads nesting in South Africa were captured when about to start their postnesting migration and tracked by satellite after having been displaced from their usual migratory route. The first turtle, released south of Madagascar about 1,148 km from the capture site, moved west up to mainland Africa and then reached her feeding grounds by following the coast. A second turtle, released farther away (2,140 km) close to La Réunion Island, stopped for some time on the Madagascar east coast, then turned southwards to round the island and regain the African mainland in the northwest, without however allowing us to establish the location of her residential grounds. Three other turtles were released off the Tanzanian coast, 2,193 km north of their nesting area, at the northern edge of the distribution of the feeding grounds along the African coast. All of them headed north, and one turtle found her residential grounds located north of the release site. The other two females started long-distance oceanic wanderings in which they crossed nearly the entire Indian Ocean, apparently being transported by the sea currents of the region. We conclude that adult loggerhead turtles are apparently unable to compensate for the displacement and can return to a pelagic life style characteristic of juvenile turtles. These findings suggest that South African loggerheads rely on simple orientation mechanisms, such as the use of the coastline, as a guide, and compass orientation, possibly integrated by spatiotemporal programmes and/or acquired maps of familiar sites.