Washington, Jan 25 : An endangered leatherback sea turtle recently completed the longest recorded migration of any sea vertebrate, after it travelled 12,744 mile across the Pacific Ocean.
The giant reptile's journey was tracked by satellite, as it provided the first record of a trans-Pacific migration by a leatherback.
The epic trip started in Indonesia's warm tropical waters in the summer of 2003 and after 647 days, the animal finally reached the cool waters of the Pacific Northwest coast of America.
"The turtle made this epic journey spanning tropical and temperate waters of the Pacific just to eat jellyfish off Oregon," National Geographic quoted Scott Benson of NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Centre in Moss Landing, California and study's lead author, as saying. The leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) is the most widely distributed marine reptile on the planet and is found in warm open seas across the world including the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
They are massive creatures and can span nine feet weight from the tip of one front flipper to the tip of the other and can weigh 1200lbs.
"Like large whales, their immense size allows them to store [food] reserves and travel great distances without eating regularly. Although they are hatched at tropical beaches, they have unique adaptations for a reptile that enable them to tolerate cool, temperate waters," Benson said.
In the study, Benson and his colleagues used satellite technology to track nine leatherback turtles from a previously unstudied population nesting on the beaches of Jamursba-Medi in the Indonesian province of Papua.
Transmitters were attached to nesting females using a backpack-like harness made of nylon webbing.
The transponders sent signals to satellites every two days, allowing the scientists to record diving behaviour, sea temperatures, and high-resolution geographic positions.
The signals showed that three animals travelled westward into the South China Sea, one turtle moved north to the Sea of Japan.
The remaining turtles travelled eastward, though only the one animal made it all the way across the Pacific Ocean.
"We had always assumed the leatherbacks occasionally spotted off California were from Mexico," said study co-author Peter Dutton, also with NOAA's Southwest Science Fisheries Service.
"Now we realize that conservation efforts need to be expanded across the ocean to the western Pacific breeding sites," Dutton added.
The study is published in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology.