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Evidence for an asymmetrical size exchange of loggerhead sea turtles between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar

AuthorsRevelles, M.; Carreras, Carlos ; Cardona, Luis; Marco, Adolfo ; Bentivegna, F.; Castillo, Juan José; De Martino, G.; Mons, J.L.; Smith, M.B.; Rico, Ciro
KeywordsCritical velocity
Loggerhead sea turtle
Mitochondrial DNA
Swimming behavior
Issue Date2007
CitationJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 349 (2007) 261 – 271
AbstractThe permanent eastward current at the Straits of Gibraltar may trap small Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) inside the western Mediterranean until their swimming and diving skills improve enough to allow them counter-current swimming abilities through the current. A captivity experiment with twelve loggerhead sea turtles (straight carapace length or SCL range: 25.3–48.0 cm) revealed that the average critical velocity of this species within the considered length range was 0.38 ± 0.16 m s− 1 or 1.01 ± 0.24 bl s− 1. As a consequence, loggerhead sea turtles are predicted to require a minimum SCL of 36.0 cm to swim counter- current through the Straits of Gibraltar, where the water velocity ranges 0.31–0.37 m s− 1. Genetic analysis of 105 specimens using one mitochondrial marker and seven microsatellites, as well as the recapture of three tagged individuals, support this conclusion; all Mediterranean individuals found in the Atlantic side of the Straits were not smaller than 36.0 cm SCL and the average length (47.3 cm SCL) was significantly higher than that of the Mediterranean turtles in the Mediterranean side of the Straits (31.6 cm SCL). Furthermore, the average length of the turtles of any origin moving from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was much larger than 36.0 cm (SCL: 54.5 cm SCL), which may indicate the intervention of a different, yet unidentified mechanism restricting east– westward movement. The Algerian current, running along northern Africa, may at least partially explain the delayed departure of loggerhead sea turtles from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, as it would force the eastward drift of loggerheads occupying the southwestern Mediterranean. Exchange through the Straits is asymmetrical, and Atlantic turtles are found to enter the Mediterranean at a length of about 20.5 cm. However, once in the Mediterranean they would be retained there for up to 7.9 years, due to the surface circulation pattern. This increases the time span at which turtles are exposed to a high mortality rate, caused by fishing
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2007.05.018
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