Dodge has tracked the male, who was tagged July 17 about eight miles offshore in Nantucket Sound, to south of an area called the Canyons, off the continental shelf. He has traveled about 1100 kilometers in less than two weeks. "He just took off," she says. "I think it's a speed record." The females, tagged July 26 and 29 in Vineyard Sound just eight miles southwest of Woods Hole, are swimming at a more leisurely pace; the first female is about 250 kilometers from where she was tagged and the second female swam about 65 kilometers between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Leatherback turtles, which can weigh up to 2000 pounds and are warm-bodied, like bluefin tuna, are the largest living reptiles in the world. The most migratory sea turtle species, they travel great distances through a wide range of water temperatures and to great depths. In the western Atlantic, leatherbacks travel from their nesting grounds in the Caribbean, northern South America, and southeast Florida to the productive foraging ground of Atlantic Canada. Leatherbacks typically come to the waters off Cape Cod from July through October although, says Dodge, "we've never known whether they're coming to forage or just passing through."
Previous tagging efforts by Dodge, Myers and Lutcavage have focused on leatherbacks that have been entangled in buoy lines of fishing gear. This year, thanks to additional funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the researchers have been able to take commercial lobster boats out to areas where leatherbacks have been spotted. This off-shore access allowed Dodge to put a tag on a male; because they never return to shore after they hatch, little is known about male leatherbacks.
Off shore and away from their nesting areas, leatherback turtles have no natural predators except sharks
|Contact: Beth Potier|
University of New Hampshire