Using GPS tracking devices, U.S. scientists have demonstrated that endangered leatherback turtles migrate and forage over a far wider area in the Pacific and Indian oceans than previously believed,
demonstrating the necessity of greater international protection for the giant turtles. Scientists from the U.S. Fisheries Service tracked leatherbacks from some of the few remaining healthy populations of the animals in Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. The researchers found that the turtles, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and grow to six feet in length, range across a wide variety of marine ecosystems, from the North Pacific to the waters of the East Australian Current and the Tasman Front. The turtles also forage off the California coast for sea nettles and jellyfish, according to the study, published in the journal Ecosphere. Pacific leatherback turtles are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the fisheries service scientists are studying their movements and the timing of their foraging to better establish regulations to limit fishing in areas where leatherbacks congregate. The turtles are often caught and drown on long-line fishing hooks. They also suffer mortality when locals eat the turtles and their eggs when they lay eggs on beaches.
Scott R. Benson/NMFS