Habitat use by loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta off the coast of eastern Spain results in a high vulnerability to neritic fishing gear
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- Cardona, L., Revelles, M., Parga, M.L. et al. Mar Biol (2009) 156: 2621. doi:10.1007/s00227-009-1288-9
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Previous studies of loggerhead sea turtles have concluded that drifting longlines were the main threat for immature specimens in the western Mediterranean, because immature loggerhead sea turtles mainly inhabit oceanic waters. However, recent aerial surveys have revealed large numbers of immature loggerhead sea turtles over the continental shelf of eastern mainland Spain, where turtles are exposed to neritic fishing gears but not to drifting longlines. We satellite-tracked seven loggerhead sea turtles (minimum straight carapace length (SCLmin) range: 36.5–55.0 cm) to assess whether the turtles in this region are vagrants from the adjoining oceanic regions or whether these loggerheads mostly inhabit the continental shelf. Satellite-tracking revealed that six of the tagged turtles avoided the oceanic realm and made extended use of the continental shelf, whereas only one individual could be considered a true vagrant as it avoided the continental shelf and primarily used the oceanic habitat. These results are in sharp contrast with those previously reported for immature loggerhead sea turtles of similar size from the south-western Mediterranean and fit well a relaxed ontogenic model that was recently proposed for loggerhead sea turtles in the central Mediterranean. Furthermore, these results demonstrate the vulnerability of loggerhead sea turtles of eastern mainland Spain to neritic fishing gears, as three of the seven turtles died and one was bycaught incidentally while being tracked over the continental shelf.