Nano-tags for neonates and ocean-mediated swimming behaviours linked to rapid dispersal of hatchling sea turtles
Dispersal during juvenile life stages drives the life-history evolution and dynamics of many marine vertebrate populations. However, the movements of juvenile organisms, too small to track using conventional satellite telemetry devices, remain enigmatic. For sea turtles, this led to the paradigm of the ‘lost years' since hatchlings disperse widely with ocean currents. Recently, advances in the miniaturization of tracking technology have permitted the application of nano-tags to track cryptic organisms. Here, the novel use of acoustic nano-tags on neonate loggerhead turtle hatchlings enabled us to witness first-hand their dispersal and behaviour during their first day at sea. We tracked hatchlings distances of up to 15 km and documented their rapid transport (up to 60 m min−1) with surface current flows passing their natal areas. Tracking was complemented with laboratory observations to monitor swimming behaviours over longer periods which highlighted (i) a positive correlation between swimming activity levels and body size and (ii) population-specific swimming behaviours (e.g. nocturnal inactivity) suggesting local oceanic conditions drive the evolution of innate swimming behaviours. Knowledge of the swimming behaviours of small organisms is crucial to improve the accuracy of ocean model simulations used to predict the fate of these organisms and determine resultant population-level implications into adulthood.