Behaviour of leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, during the migratory cycle

Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Aug 7;272(1572):1547-55. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3110.


Leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, undertake broad oceanic movements. While satellite telemetry has been used to investigate the post-nesting behaviour of female turtles tagged on tropical nesting beaches, long-term behavioural patterns of turtles of different sexes and sizes have not been described. Here we investigate behaviour for 25 subadult and adult male and female turtles satellite-tagged in temperate waters off Nova Scotia, Canada. Although sex and reproductive condition contributed to variation in migratory patterns, the migratory cycle of all turtles included movement between temperate and tropical waters. Marked changes in rates of travel, and diving and surfacing behaviour, accompanied southward movement away from northern foraging areas. As turtles approached higher latitudes the following spring and summer, they assumed behaviours consistent with regular foraging activity and eventually settled in coastal areas off Canada and the northeastern USA. Behavioural patterns corresponding to various phases of the migratory cycle were consistent across multiple animals and were repeated within individuals that completed return movements to northern waters. We consider the potential biological significance of these patterns, including how turtle behaviour relates to predator avoidance, thermoregulation and prey distribution.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration*
  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Telemetry
  • Turtles / physiology*