Hello, my name is Floriane and I am a former volunteer at Wildlife Sense during the summer of 2014. I am from France and I’m in the agronomic school of engineers VetAgro Sup, where I study animal behaviour and Agronomy. I came to Wildlife Sense for an internship of two months because I wanted to know more about sea turtles and to conduct a research project.
I chose to study interactions between the loggerhead sea turtles in the harbour of Argostoli in order to understand the behavior of turtles in a particular context.
I read a paper about the structure of aggressive interactions between loggerhead females written by Schofield (2007) which helped me to formulate my hypothesis and create my data sheet. My question was: How did in situ sea turtle activity influence the surrounding sea turtles’ behavour and what type of interaction resulted?
To answer to my question, data were collected by myself and volunteers during regular scheduled morning shifts in the harbour of Argostoli. I recorded five different interactions (based on Schofield 2007 and 2006):
1) Head to tail circle: two turtles make a full circle as they swim after each other
1 a) more than 1.5m
1 b) less than 1.5 m
2) Biting: one turtle bites the other, but the turtles are not facing each other
3) Chasing: one turtle pursuing another turtle
4) Sparring: two turtles are facing and biting each other
Before any of these five interactions occur, the behaviour of the in situ turtle (who was there before the intruder(s)) was recorded as one of the following: swimming, resting or feeding. After the interaction occurred the way in which the turtles separated was recorded as one of the following: mutual separation, flee of the intruder(s), or flee of the in situ sea turtle.
I have conducted a preliminary analysis of the data from June and July and I will do a full analysis of my complete data (June until October) at the end of the season. So far, according to my statistical analyses, I found that when the in situ turtle is feeding the first interaction is very often biting. When the insitu turtle is swimming, the first interaction is frequently chasing, however when the insitu turtle is resting a head to tail circle with a distance less than 1.5m apart or a biting interaction often results. As I said before, this research will be conducted for the entire season and if the environmental factors within the harbour do not change, then I believe to have the same results at the end of the season.
My results show that within the harbour competition for the food may exist and in particular for fish given by fishermen. Due to this competition, the first interaction is normally biting (more aggressive than a head to tail circle or a chasing, according to Schofield 2007). Moreover, I believe some turtles could develop territorial behavior. Thus when they are not eating, they chase other turtles found in “their” territory. However, there are not yet conclusive studies to show that sea turtles could develop this kind of behavior. But, when I was in the harbour, I regularly observed a female turtle, named Barb, who stayed in a particular area of the harbour and would chase the other turtles found in “her” territory. But, we have to keep in mind that there is a lot of tourists in the harbour who feed the turtles, try to touch them, so we must not forget that the proximity of human can influence the behavior of turtles in the harbour.
I would like to finish by thanking Chanel and Nikos, but also all the volunteers without whom I would not have managed to collect as much data. I really enjoyed my internship with Wildlife Sense and I think that it’s a very good opportunity to have a strong knowledge of sea turtles.