The navigational feats of green sea turtles migrating from Ascension Island investigated by satellite telemetry

Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Dec 7;265(1412):2279-84. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1998.0571.


Previous tagging studies of the movements of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nesting at Ascension Island have shown that they shuttle between this remote target in the Atlantic Ocean and their feeding grounds on the Brazilian coast, a distance of 2300 km or more. Since a knowledge of sea turtle migration routes might allow inferences on the still unknown navigational mechanisms of marine animals, we tracked the postnesting migration of six green turtle females from Ascension Island to Brazil. Five of them reached the proximity of the easternmost stretch of the Brazilian coast, covering 1777-2342 km in 33-47 days. Their courses were impressively similar for the first 1000 km, with three turtles tracked over different dates following indistinguishable paths for the first 300 km. Only the sixth turtle made some relatively short trips in different directions around Ascension. The tracks show that turtles (i) are able to maintain straight courses over long distances in the open sea; (ii) may perform exploratory movements in different directions; (iii) appropriately correct their course during the journey according to external information; and (iv) initially keep the same direction as the west-south-westerly flowing current, possibly guided by chemical cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Brazil
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Spacecraft
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Telemetry
  • Turtles / physiology*