Locomotion in hatchling leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea

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Abstract

Hatchling leatherback turtles can only swim forwards, and employ synchronized beating of the forelimbs whether swimming slowly or quickly. The hind limbs make no contribution to propulsion. Effectively, the hatchlings have two swimming speeds; subsurface and fast (30 cm s-1) or surfaced and slow (8 cm s-1). Intermediate velocities are transitory; the hatchlings were never seen to rest without movement, nor did they exhibit gliding of the type seen in green turtles. During fast (‘vigorous’) swimming, power is developed on both the upstroke and downstroke of the limb cycle. During slow swimming, power is only developed during the upstroke—a consequence of the orientation of the axis of limb beat which is opposite in direction to that of cheloniid sea turtles. Terrestrial locomotion is laboured and features an unstable gait which involves simultaneous movement of all four limbs and forward overbalancing during each limb cycle.

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