ITHACA, N.Y. -- While radio station traffic reporters track the annual migration patterns of Thanksgiving holiday celebrants, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean -- off the western coast of South America -- there are some leatherback turtles who have just begun to share their traffic information.
Sea turtle number 1109-B and some of her fellow leatherbacks have given humanity a fascinating glimpse into the long-distance migration patterns of vertebrate marine life. Scientists have learned that the turtles prefer specific ocean routes as if traveling an aquatic interstate highway. "They're all going along the same corridors," said Stephen J. Morreale, Cornell University doctoral candidate in zoology, who did the research for Cornell's New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. "The existence of ocean corridors for sea turtles is important to the development of effective international conservation strategies."
The research, "Migration Corridor for Sea Turtles," published in the journal Nature (Nov. 28) was done by Morreale; Edward A. Standora, associate professor of biology, State University College, Buffalo; James R. Spotila, professor of bioscience at Drexel University; and Frank V. Paladino, chair, department of biological sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Ind.
At the nesting beaches in Costa Rica, Morreale and his colleagues tagged eight female leatherback turtles with small satellite transmitters designed to survive the crushing pressure of the ocean's deep water and buoyant enough to transmit a signal when a turtle reached the water's surface.
Attaching the transmitters to the turtles was not easy: the pliable, yet oily carapace -- the sea turtle's shell -- made attaching the tethered transmitter difficult. Attached transmitters lasted between three and 87 days, but that was enough time to provide the researchers the first record of the turtles' preferred path.