Responses of hatchling sea turtles to rotational displacements
After emerging from underground nests, sea turtle hatchlings migrate through the surf zone and out to the open ocean. During this migration, both waves and water currents can disrupt hatchling orientation by unpredictably rotating the turtles away from their migratory headings. In addition, waves cause turtles to roll and pitch, temporarily impeding forward swimming by forcing the hatchlings into steeply inclined positions. To maintain seaward orientation and remain upright in the water column, hatchlings must continuously compensate for such displacements. As a first step toward determining how this is achieved, we studied the responses of loggerhead (Caretta caretta L.) sea turtle hatchlings to rotational displacements involving yaw, roll, and pitch. Hatchlings responded to rotations in the horizontal plane (yaw) by extending the rear flipper on the side opposite the direction of rotation. Thus, the flipper presumably acts as a rudder to help turn the turtle back toward its original heading. Turtles responded to rotations in the roll plane with stereotypic movements of the front flippers that act to right the hatchlings with respect to gravity. Finally, hatchlings responded to rotations in the pitch plane with movements of the hind flippers that appear likely to curtail or counteract the pitching motion. Thus, the results of these experiments imply that young sea turtles emerge from their nests possessing a suite of stereotypic behavioral responses that function to counteract rotational displacements, enable the animals to maintain equilibrium, and facilitate efficient movement toward the open sea. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Avens, L; Wang, JH; Johnsen, S; Dukes, P; Lohmann, KJ
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