Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

Most satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks have focused on adult females on their tropical nesting beaches, so little is known worldwide about males and subadults, the researcher point out. But now, tagging and satellite tracking in locations where leatherbacks forage has allowed the scientists to get a much richer picture of the leatherback’s behavior and dispersal patterns on the open ocean.

via All Top News — ScienceDaily:

A first-of-its-kind satellite tagging study of migrating New England leatherback turtles in the North Atlantic offers a greatly improved understanding of their seasonal high-use habitats, diving activity and response to key ocean and environmental features in relation to their search behavior. Leatherbacks are considered endangered species in all the world’s oceans.The study, part of doctoral research by Kara Dodge supervised by her advisor, Molly Lutcavage of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC) in Gloucester, followed leatherbacks in their northern US feeding grounds. It allowed for a rare glimpse into the migratory patterns and behavior of immature and adult male turtles.Most satellite tagging studies of leatherbacks have focused on adult females on their tropical nesting beaches, so little is known worldwide about males and subadults, the researcher point out. But now, tagging and satellite tracking in locations where leatherbacks forage has allowed the scientists to get a much richer picture of the leatherback’s behavior and dispersal patterns on the open ocean.Findings suggest that a habitat model that includes ecoregion, topography and sea surface temperature best explains the leatherbacks’ search patterns for prey. The tagged leatherbacks in this LPRC-led study showed a strong affinity for the Northeast U.S. shelf during the summer and fall when full-sized jellyfish are present.New knowledge about leatherbacks, particularly in coastal habitats, is important, the authors say, because “coastal ecosystems are under intense pressure worldwide, with some of the highest predicted cumulative impact in the North American eastern seaboard and the eastern Caribbean. Parts of those regions constitute high-use habitat for leatherbacks in our study, putting turtles at heightened risk from both land- and ocean-based human activity.”Lutcavage and colleagues’ findings appear in the current issue of PLOS ONE. These will be useful to agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MassDMF) charged with protecting leatherbacks under international treaties and national laws, and in international efforts to protect leatherbacks throughout the North Atlantic.Lutcavage, Dodge, and Ben Galuardi of the LPRC, with Tim Miller of NOAA, set out to determine how leatherbacks behave in distinct regions, or “ecoregions” of the North Atlantic, as well as their diving habits in those areas and other new information. For this study, supported by LPRC, NOAA Fisheries, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and MassDMF, the team worked with commercial fishermen, spotter pilots and the Massachusetts sea turtle disentanglement network from 2007 to 2009 to tag 20 leatherback turtles off the coast of Cape Cod.Leatherbacks have long been known to inhabit New England waters, says Lutcavage. …

For more info: Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

All Top News — ScienceDaily

Tracking endangered leatherback sea turtles by satellite, key habitats identified

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