Marine Biology

, Volume 143, Issue 2, pp 211-220

First online:

Site fidelity and homing behavior in juvenile loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta)

  • Larisa AvensAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of North CarolinaNOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Beaufort Laboratory Email author 
  • , Joanne Braun-McNeillAffiliated withNOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Beaufort Laboratory
  • , Sheryan EpperlyAffiliated withNOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center
  • , Kenneth J. LohmannAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of North Carolina

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To investigate site fidelity and homing behavior in juvenile loggerheads (Caretta caretta, L.), a mark-recapture study spanning four years (1998–2001) was conducted in Core Sound, N.C., USA. Each year of the study, approximately half of the turtles captured were tagged and released near the capture sites (n=207), while the remaining turtles were displaced 15–20 km and released (n=198). Loggerheads in both groups were recaptured in equal proportions near the original capture sites and many individuals were also recaptured in subsequent years. These data imply that juvenile loggerheads often returned to their capture sites following displacement, because if turtles dispersed randomly or remained near their release sites, then fewer displaced turtles should have been caught again. Moreover, because turtles migrate out of North Carolina sounds each winter, turtles recaptured at the same locations in different years evidently returned to specific sites following long migrations. To further investigate homing behavior, a small number of displaced turtles (n=28) were tracked using radio telemetry following their release. Although transmitters detached from most turtles within a few days, analyses of initial headings showed strong orientation in the direction of the capture site. In addition, four turtles successfully tracked for longer periods of time all returned rapidly to the vicinity of the capture location and remained in the area. Taken together, the results of this study indicate that juvenile loggerheads exhibit fidelity to specific areas during summer months and possess the navigational abilities to home to these areas following forced displacements and long-distance migrations.