Where the Leatherbacks Roam

By fisheries.noaa.gov.

Leatherback sea turtles are known to travel thousands of miles to move from warm, tropical and subtropical nesting areas to cooler, prey-rich feeding grounds. These locations—and the journey between them—are critical for supporting this species’ survival. New research has confirmed important foraging grounds along the Atlantic migration corridor for these aquatic giants.

Leatherbacks commonly swim from the South and Mid-Atlantic Bights during the warmer months to feeding areas near New England and Nova Scotia, Canada, where food is plentiful. They migrate southward again when water temperatures drop during the winter. But scientists didn’t know where the turtles went in between, and what they were doing along the way.


A team of researchers, including NOAA Fisheries and partners, set out on a quest to find out more about their movement patterns. Between 2017 and 2022, the team successfully tracked 52 leatherback sea turtles using satellite tags that also recorded location, depth, and temperature data. The team attached the tags to turtles off the coasts of Massachusetts and North Carolina. The tagging may seem like the easy part, but applying tags involves finding and capturing the several-hundred-pound turtles in their offshore environment—a very challenging task! The tags allow scientists to not just track where the turtles go, but the behaviors they exhibit during these migrations.

 The paper, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, describes models and techniques used to provide information on habitat connectivity. This study provides insights into what occurs after the turtles are tagged, such as dive duration and frequency, use of the water column, and depth-temperature profiles and behavior. The research was led by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science and NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center.

read more at fisheries.noaa.gov.