Jellyfish Support High Energy Intake of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea): Video Evidence from Animal-Borne Cameras
Heaslip, Susan G.
Iverson, Sara J.
Bowen, W. Don
James, Michael C.
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The endangered leatherback turtle is a large, highly migratory marine predator that inexplicably relies upon a diet of low-energy gelatinous zooplankton. The location of these prey may be predictable at large oceanographic scales, given that leatherback turtles perform long distance migrations (1000s of km) from nesting beaches to high latitude foraging grounds. However, little is known about the profitability of this migration and foraging strategy. We used GPS location data and video from animal-borne cameras to examine how prey characteristics (i.e., prey size, prey type, prey encounter rate) correlate with the daytime foraging behavior of leatherbacks (n = 19) in shelf waters off Cape Breton Island, NS, Canada, during August and September. Video was recorded continuously, averaged 1: 53 h per turtle (range 0: 08-3: 38 h), and documented a total of 601 prey captures. Lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) was the dominant prey (83-100%), but moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were also consumed. Turtles approached and attacked most jellyfish within the camera's field of view and appeared to consume prey completely. There was no significant relationship between encounter rate and dive duration (p = 0.74, linear mixed-effects models). Handling time increased with prey size regardless of prey species (p = 0.0001). Estimates of energy intake averaged 66,018 kJ.d(-1) but were as high as 167,797 kJ.d(-1) corresponding to turtles consuming an average of 330 kg wet mass.d(-1) (up to 840 kg.d(-1)) or approximately 261 (up to 664) jellyfish.d(-1). Assuming our turtles averaged 455 kg body mass, they consumed an average of 73% of their body mass.d(-1) equating to an average energy intake of 3-7 times their daily metabolic requirements, depending on estimates used. This study provides evidence that feeding tactics used by leatherbacks in Atlantic Canadian waters are highly profitable and our results are consistent with estimates of mass gain prior to southward migration.
Heaslip, Susan G., Sara J. Iverson, W. Don Bowen, and Michael C. James. 2012. "Jellyfish Support High Energy Intake of Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea): Video Evidence from Animal-Borne Cameras." Plos One 7(3): 33259-e33259.