Acoustic Ecology of Sea Turtles: Implications for Conservation
An understanding of sensory ecology, how animals receive and respond to their environment, can be a powerful tool for the conservation of endangered species because it can allow us to assess the potential success of actions designed to mitigate particular threats. We have a general understanding of how sea turtles perceive and respond to certain visual, magnetic, and chemical cues, but we understand very little about how they perceive and respond to acoustic cues. This dissertation explores the acoustic ecology of sea turtles, focusing on their auditory capabilities, responses to acoustic stimuli and the implications of this knowledge for their conservation. I measured the underwater and aerial hearing sensitivities of juvenile green (Chelonia mydas), hatchling leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and hatchling hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles by recording auditory evoked potential responses to tonal stimuli. Green turtles detected tonal stimuli between 50 and 1,600 Hz underwater (maximum sensitivity: 200-400 Hz) and 50 and 800 Hz in air (maximum sensitivity: 300-400 Hz), leatherbacks detected tonal stimuli between 50 and 1,200 Hz underwater (maximum sensitivity: 100-400 Hz) and 50 and 1,600 Hz in air (maximum sensitivity: 50-400Hz), and hawksbills detected tonal stimuli between 50 and 1,600 Hz in both media (maximum sensitivity: 200-400 Hz). Sea turtles were more sensitive to aerial than underwater stimuli when audiograms were compared in terms of sound pressure, but they were more sensitive to underwater stimuli when audiograms were compared in terms of sound intensity. I also examined the behavioral responses of loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) to simulated low frequency acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) and found that these turtles exhibited a mild, aversive response to these sounds. This finding indicates that low frequency tonal ADDs have the potential to warn sea turtles of the presence of fishing gear and suggest that field tests of ADDs are warranted. Finally, I conducted a comprehensive review of our knowledge of the acoustic ecology of sea turtles, examined the sources of marine anthropogenic sound sea turtles are able to detect, evaluated the potential physiological and behavioral effects of anthropogenic sound, identified data gaps, and made recommendations for future research.
acoustic deterrent device
auditory evoked potential
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