, Volume 147, Issue 4, pp 845-853

Migratory and reproductive movements of male leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)

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Abstract

The biology of the endangered leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at sea is poorly understood. As research has been almost exclusively limited to studies of nesting females, the movements of male turtles and the timing and location of mating activity have remained unknown. We report on the first deployments of satellite tags on male leatherbacks. Male migration to and residency in waters adjacent low-latitude nesting beaches in the western Atlantic suggest that this is where mating occurs, and return migration to these areas reveals male fidelity for breeding sites. Rate of travel decreased markedly after arriving in coastal breeding areas, where males remained for up to 96 days before assuming northward migrations. The initiation of these northward migrations coincided with peak nesting activity in adjacent nesting colonies. Data from satellite-linked time-depth recorders attached to two males revealed diel dive patterns in breeding areas and marked differences in diving behaviour between migratory and breeding periods in one turtle. When male turtles were in waters adjacent nesting colonies, their movements differed from those reported for nesting females, with females ranging farther from shore. Our results suggest that male leatherbacks may be vulnerable to entanglement in coastal fishing gear in waters adjacent nesting beaches.

Communicated by R.J. Thompson, St. John’s