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Navigation and seasonal migratory orientation in juvenile sea turtles
Larisa Avens, Kenneth J. Lohmann


Juvenile loggerhead and green turtles that inhabit inshore waters of North Carolina, USA undertake long seasonal migrations, after which they often return to specific feeding areas. In addition, juvenile turtles are capable of homing to specific sites after being displaced. As a first step towards investigating the navigational mechanisms that underlie these movements, juvenile turtles were captured in coastal waters of North Carolina and displaced 30–167 km along circuitous routes while deprived of visual cues. At the testing location, turtles were tethered in a circular arena and permitted to swim while their orientation was monitored. Between May and September, when juvenile loggerhead and green turtles inhabit feeding areas along the North Carolina coast, turtles oriented in directions that corresponded closely with the most direct route back to their capture locations. During October and November, however, both loggerhead and green turtles oriented southward, a direction consistent with the migratory paths of turtles beginning their autumn migration. The results demonstrate for the first time that both homing and migratory orientation can be elicited in juvenile turtles under laboratory conditions in which orientation cues can be readily manipulated. In addition, the results provide evidence that juvenile loggerheads can assess their position relative to a goal using local cues available at the test site and are therefore capable of map-based navigation.

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