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Crocodiles ride ocean currents for ocean travel
Date:6/7/2010

The mystery of how the world's largest living reptile - the estuarine crocodile - has come to occupy so many South Pacific islands separated by huge stretches of ocean despite being a poor swimmer has at last been solved by a group of Australian ecologists. Publishing their new study in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Animal Ecology, they say that like a surfer catching a wave, the crocodiles ride ocean currents to cross large areas of open sea.

The estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is a semi-aquatic reptile, living mainly in rivers, mangroves and estuaries. Its geographical range extends over 10,000 km2 of the South-East Pacific, from East India to Fiji and from southern China to North Australia. Although it spends most of its life in salt-water, it cannot be considered a marine reptile in the same way as a turtle is, for example, because it relies on land for food and water.

Many anecdotal accounts exist of large crocodiles being sighted far out to sea, but this is the first study to show using underwater acoustic tags and satellite tracking that estuarine crocodiles ride surface currents during long-distance travel, which would enable them to voyage from one oceanic island and another.

The results explain why, despite occupying such a large range, species diversification of the estuarine crocodile has not occurred.

Working in the remote Kennedy River in North Queensland, Australia, Dr Hamish Campbell from University of Queensland and colleagues from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Australia Zoo tagged 27 adult estuarine crocodiles with sonar transmitters and used underwater receivers to track their every move over 12 months.

During that time they recorded 1.2 million data packets and found that both male and female adult crocodiles undertook long-distance journeys, regularly travelling more than 50km from their home area to the river mouth and beyond into open sea.

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Contact: Dr. Hamish Campbell
c.franklin@uq.edu.au
61-733-652-516
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert  

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