Seafinding By Hatchling Sea Turtles: Role of Brightness, Silhouette and Beach Slope as Orientation Cues

in Behaviour
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Upon emerging from underground nests, sea turtle hatchlings immediately crawl toward the ocean. The primary cues used in orientation are visual but the nature of the visual cues was a matter of speculation. Hatchlings might also respond to secondary cues, such as beach slope. Experiments were carried out in an arena where specific visual and slope cues, simulating those present at nest sites, could be precisely controlled and manipulated. Subjects were green turtle (Chelonia mydas L.) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta L.) hatchlings. Both species oriented toward the more intensely illuminated sections of the arena. They also oriented away from dark silhouettes which simulated an elevated horizon, typical of the view toward land. Turtles responded primarily to stimuli (both silhouettes and photic differences) at or near eye level. When presented simultaneously with a silhouette and a photic gradient located in different directions, hatchlings oriented away from the silhouette and ignored photic stimuli. Under infrared light, both species oriented down slopes. However in the presence of nocturnal levels of visible light loggerheads ignored slope cues and responses of green turtles to slope were weakened. The data suggest that loggerhead and green turtle hatchlings usually find the sea by orienting away from elevated silhouettes. This is a prominent and reliable cue for species which typically nest on continental beaches.

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