Testing the navigational abilities of ocean migrants: displacement experiments on green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas)
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Like many animals migrating through the oceans, sea turtles face difficult navigational tasks when they have to reach distant, specific sites. The paradigmatic case of Brazilian green turtles (Chelonia mydas), which nest on the tiny Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, has often been the subject of hypotheses concerning their navigational mechanisms. To investigate their nature, we displaced 18 females from Ascension and tracked them by satellite after release from eight different points in the ocean, 60–450 km away from the island. Four turtles moved to Brazil soon after the release, 4 moved in various directions before heading to Brazil, and 10 reached the island. All the successful trips, bar 1, were winding but ended with a final straight segment of variable length, as if the turtles were searching for a sensory contact with the island which they obtained at various distances. The approach to Ascension mostly occurred from the direction opposite to the trade wind, suggesting a navigational role of wind-borne information originating from the island.
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