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Dispersal and dive patterns in gravid leatherback turtles during the nesting season in French Guiana

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Abstract:

We present the first combined analysis of diving behaviour and dispersal patterns in gravid leatherback turtles during 3 consecutive nesting seasons in French Guiana. In total 23 turtles were fitted with Argos satellite transmitters and 16 individuals (including 6 concurrently satellite-tracked) were equipped with an electronic time-depth recorder for single inter-nesting intervals, i.e. between two consecutive ovi-positions. The leatherbacks dispersed over the continental shelf, ranging from the coastal zone to the shelf break and moved over 546.2 $\pm$ 154.1 km (mean $\pm$ SD) in waters of French Guiana and neighbouring Surinam. They mostly performed shallow (9.4 $\pm$ 9.2 m) and short (4.4 $\pm$ 3.4 min) dives with a slight diurnal pattern. They dived deeper as they moved away from the coast suggesting that they were predominantly following the seabed. Inter-nesting intervals could be divided into two phases: during the first 75% of the time turtles spent at sea, they dived on average 47 min h-1 before showing a lower and more variable diving effort as they came back to the shore. The extended movements of leatherbacks and the fine analysis of dive shapes suggest that in French Guiana leatherbacks may feed during the inter-nesting interval, probably to compensate for the energy costs associated with reproduction. This results in this endangered species being exposed to high risks of interactions with local fisheries throughout the continental shelf.

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