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Keywords:

  • Caretta caretta;
  • central North Pacific;
  • loggerhead turtles;
  • longline fishery;
  • satellite remote sensing;
  • subtropical front

Nine juvenile loggerhead sea turtles tracked during 1997 and 1998 in the central North Pacific by satellite telemetry all travelled westward, against prevailing currents, along two convergent fronts identified by satellite remotely sensed data on sea surface temperature (SST), chlorophyll and geostrophic currents. These fronts are characterized by gradients in sea surface height that produce an eastward geostrophic current, with gradients in surface chlorophyll and SST. Six of the turtles were associated with a front characterized by 17°C SST, surface chlorophyll of about 0.2 mg m–3, and eastward geostrophic current of about 4 cm s–1, while the other three turtles were associated with a front with 20°C SST, surface chlorophyll of about 0.1 mg m–3, and eastward geostrophic flow of about 7 cm s–1. These results appear to explain why incidental catch rates of loggerheads in the Hawaii longline fishery are highest when gear is set at 17°C and 20°C, SST. Further, from the seasonal distribution of longline effort relative to these fronts, it appears that the surface longline fishing ground lies largely between these two fronts during the first quarter and well to the south of the 17°C front, but including the 20°C front, in the second quarter. These findings suggest seasonal or area closures of the longline fishery that could be tested to reduce incidental catches of loggerheads. Finally, these results illustrate the insights which can be achieved by combining data on movement of pelagic animals with concurrent remotely sensed environmental data.