The fact that leatherback turtles swim thousands of miles is driven home beautifully in this new map of their sophisticated, ocean-spanning movements.
Between 2000 and 2007, biologists attached GPS transmitters to 126 leatherbacks nesting in Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. These individuals represent one of three remaining subpopulations of the endangered turtle, which can reach lengths of 6 feet and weigh more than 2,000 pounds.
The map resulting resulting from the transmissions, published in the July Ecosphere, shows creatures that don’t just drift in instinctive obedience to migratory impulse. The leatherbacks navigated in time with season and temperature and current, visiting eddies and boundaries and blooms. They demonstrated the sophistication and pickiness of a savvy grocery-store shopper, except their store covers a tenth of Earth’s surface.
For scientists, the findings will inform conservation programs and emphasize the need for international-level cooperation. For everyone else, they reinforce just how amazing these creatures are.