Turtle-cams

A turtle’s underwater life has long been a mystery for science. Modern equipment such as GPS loggers give a lot of interesting insight into the turtle’s life, but there are things that GPS loggers simply cannot register. To learn more about the behaviour of turtles on a fine spatio-temporal scale, scientists resort to different technologies.

In 2005 Dr Richard Reina from Monash University collaborated with National Geographic to study the behaviour of female leatherbacks during their nesting season. The researchers attached video cameras to the carapace of female leatherbacks using suction caps. The cameras were automatically released from the turtle after several hours and the researchers then relocated the devices using a VHF transmitter. The footage presented an interesting view of underwater life from a turtle’s perspective and provided new insight into the private life of leatherbacks:

  • The video showed that the females turtles did not feed during the nesting season (which can span several months!).
  • The footage also exposed the aggressive and harassing behaviour of males wanting to pair with the females. Some males would repeatedly strike and bite the females. Others would even try to prevent the females from returning to the surface.
  • The video also revealed that some females seemed to actively avoid the males.

The results of this study were published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

Using the turtle-borne camera has therefore given the researchers a great perspective on what the turtles do in their natural environment. New research published last month in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution studied the feeding behaviour of leatherbacks off the coast of Nova Scotia. In the following video you can see a leatherback looking for its favourite meal!

Video courtesy of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network

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2 thoughts on “Turtle-cams

  1. Cool post and nice footage, thanks for sharing! There is one question I have about the research and the conclusion that you mention. If I understand correctly, the cameras were on the turtle’s shell for a few hours only. How can they then draw the general conclusion that the females did not feed during the nesting season?

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    • Hi Niles, glad you liked the post! You ask a very good question. The thing you need to know is that the researchers attached cameras to more than just one turtle. They had eleven turtles with cameras in the study and recorded 46.5 hours of footage in total. They say that “potential prey items such as jellyfish, ctenophores and salps in aggregations or singly were observed in the turtle’s field of view at least once per hour in all deployments but there were no visible indications of feeding activity.” So put together, this suggests that the turtles did not feed. They make the assumption that what the turtles did during the couple of hours with which they have the camera is representative of what they normally do (i.e. is not different to what they do once the camera detached itself) but I think that is a reasonable assumption to make. Research prior to this one already suggested turtles do not feed during the breeding season, but this is the first time it was visually observed!

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