Behaviour and buoyancy regulation in the deepest-diving reptile : the leatherback turtle

Fossette, Sabrina, Gleiss, Adrian C., Myers, Andy E., Garner, Steve, Liebsch, Nikolai, Whitney, Nicholas M., Hays, Graeme C., Wilson, Rory P. and Lutcavage, Molly E. 2010, Behaviour and buoyancy regulation in the deepest-diving reptile : the leatherback turtle, Journal of experimental biology, vol. 213, no. 23, pp. 4074-4083, doi: 10.1242/jeb.048207.

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Title Behaviour and buoyancy regulation in the deepest-diving reptile : the leatherback turtle
Author(s) Fossette, Sabrina
Gleiss, Adrian C.
Myers, Andy E.
Garner, Steve
Liebsch, Nikolai
Whitney, Nicholas M.
Hays, Graeme C.ORCID iD for Hays, Graeme C.
Wilson, Rory P.
Lutcavage, Molly E.
Journal name Journal of experimental biology
Volume number 213
Issue number 23
Start page 4074
End page 4083
Total pages 10
Publisher Company of Biologists
Place of publication Cambridge, England
Publication date 2010-12-01
ISSN 0022-0949
Keyword(s) gas solubility
Boyle's law
cost of swimming
body density
Summary In the face of the physical and physiological challenges of performing breath-hold deep dives, marine vertebrates have evolved different strategies. Although behavioural strategies in marine mammals and seabirds have been investigated in detail, little is known about the deepest-diving reptile – the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Here, we deployed tri-axial accelerometers on female leatherbacks nesting on St Croix, US Virgin Islands, to explore their diving strategy. Our results show a consistent behavioural pattern within dives among individuals, with an initial period of active swimming at relatively steep descent angles (∼–40 deg), with a stroke frequency of 0.32 Hz, followed by a gliding phase. The depth at which the gliding phase began increased with the maximum depth of the dives. In addition, descent body angles and vertical velocities were higher during deeper dives. Leatherbacks might thus regulate their inspired air-volume according to the intended dive depth, similar to hard-shelled turtles and penguins. During the ascent, turtles actively swam with a stroke frequency of 0.30 Hz but with a low vertical velocity (∼0.40 ms–1) and a low pitch angle (∼+26 deg). Turtles might avoid succumbing to decompression sickness (‘the bends’) by ascending slowly to the surface. In addition, we suggest that the low body temperature of this marine ectotherm compared with that of endotherms might help reduce the risk of bubble formation by increasing the solubility of nitrogen in the blood. This physiological advantage, coupled with several behavioural and physical adaptations, might explain the particular ecological niche the leatherback turtle occupies among marine reptiles.
Language eng
DOI 10.1242/jeb.048207
Field of Research 069999 Biological Sciences not elsewhere classified
Socio Economic Objective 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Copyright notice ©2010, Company of Biologists
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