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How diving leatherback turtles regulate buoyancy
Date:11/12/2010

Leatherback turtles are remarkably versatile divers. Routinely diving to depths of several hundred meters, leatherbacks are occasionally known to plunge as deep as 1250m. The animals probably plumb the depths to avoid predators, search for prey and avoid heat in the tropics. However it wasn't clear how these mammoth reptiles regulate their buoyancy as they plunge down. Sabrina Fossette from Swansea University explains that no one knew how the turtles descended so far: do they swim down or become negatively buoyant and plummet like a stone? Curious to find out how nesting leatherbacks plumb the depths, Rory Wilson and his long time collaborator, Molly Lutcavage, decided to deploy data loggers containing triaxial accelerometers on leatherback females as they nested on beaches on St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. They found that leatherbacks probably regulate their buoyancy by varying the amount of air they inhale just before submersion and publish their discovery on Nov. 12, 2010 in the Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/abstract/213/23/4074.

'When you first see a leatherback turtle coming out of the water it's like a dinosaur it's really impressive,' says Fossette, having just returned from collecting data in the Indian Ocean. According to Fossette, Andy Myers, Nikolai Liebsch and Steve Garner attached accelerometers to five females as they laid their eggs, and then waited 8-12 days for the reptiles to return to the beach to lay more eggs having headed out to sea. Retrieving the accelerometers, the team found that only two of the five had collected usable data, but the data loggers that functioned showed 81 dives that the team could analyse ranging from 64m down to 462m.

Back in Swansea, Fossette, Adrian Gleiss, Graeme Hays and Rory Wilson analysed the temperature, pressure and acceleration data collected by the loggers. Desc
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Contact: Kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-078-763-44333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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