Marine Biology

, 166:3 | Cite as

Genetic analysis and satellite tracking reveal origin of the green turtles in San Diego Bay

  • Peter H. DuttonEmail author
  • Robin A. LeRoux
  • Erin L. LaCasella
  • Jeffrey A. Seminoff
  • Tomoharu Eguchi
  • Donna L. Dutton
Original paper


Understanding population structure and migration patterns is critical for conservation of marine species that undertake seasonal migrations, often spanning entire oceans, between breeding grounds and distant feeding areas. To examine the stock origin of the green turtle foraging aggregation in San Diego Bay, California, USA (32.6°N, 117.1°W) and evaluate current life history hypotheses, 770 bp sequences of the mitochondrial DNA control region from 121 green turtles captured in San Diego Bay were compared to potential source (nesting) populations across the Pacific. Mixed stock analysis indicated that the San Diego Bay foraging population originates from eastern Pacific nesting sites, primarily the Revillagigedo Archipelago and the coast of Michoacán, Mexico. To further understand migratory pathways and breeding destinations, three mature female turtles were satellite tracked from the San Diego Bay foraging ground (FG), including one turtle tracked for 364 days that nested at Socorro Island in Revillagigedo and returned to San Diego Bay (total distance approx. 3200 km), one of the first continuous satellite tracks of a sea turtle from a FG to its nesting site and back. Tracks from another turtle indicated possible nesting at Tres Marias Islands, approximately 100 km off the Mexican mainland coast. All three turtles have subsequently been recaptured in San Diego Bay, indicating a high degree of FG philopatry. These results rule out previous speculation that Hawaiian green turtles were also using San Diego Bay, provide insights into the distribution of the Revillagigedo Islands and Michoacán breeding populations and draw attention to the Tres Marias Islands as a potential source of green turtles in the temperate North Pacific.



We would like to thank the valuable contributions of field personnel over the years who made this project possible, especially Suzanne Roden, Amy Frey, Dan Prosperi, Elyse Wurster, Luana McAuliffe, Stephen Johnson, Lauren Schiermeyer, John Hyde, Joel Schumacher, Garrett Lemons, and Bradley MacDonald. Laboratory analysis took place at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, CA, USA. We thank Gabriella Serra-Valente for sample curation, Victoria Pease, Amanda Konopaki and Amy Lanci for laboratory management and assistance, and Dan Prosperi for his expertise in data management. Cali Turner-Tomaszewicz and Michael Jensen provided helpful input on the manuscript. This research was conducted under National Marine Fisheries Service Research Permit numbers 697, 988, 1297, 1591, 16803, and 18238 and in compliance with IACUC protocols.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

227_2018_3446_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (70 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 69 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science CenterLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Ocean Planet Research Inc.San DiegoUSA

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