For long, scientists have been baffled about the disappearance of baby turtles in the sea for decades. Previously, it was assumed that they spend these “lost years” drifting along with the currents. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Central Florida have recently revealed that these turtles acquire the skill of swimming from a very early age ranging between 6 and 18 months. This implies that they do not at all flow with the current. The finding has been detailed in the journal Current Biology.
Conventional theories state that after their birth, sea turtles move into seaweed mats and simply drift with the ocean currents until their swimming skills improve. Dr. Nathan Putman, lead author of the study and sea turtle biologist with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, elaborated “All species of sea turtles are endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act; knowing their distribution is an essential part of protecting them. With a better understanding of swimming behavior in these yearlings we can make better predictions about where they go and what risks they might encounter.”
Previous studies have unveiled that hatchlings swim offshore and are disbursed with the help of ocean currents. Some of them reside in seaweed mats which provide them shelter and habitat. However, the creatures can be observed rarely between birth and adulthood and thus their activities during this period are not known clearly.
For the study, Putman and Dr. Kate Mansfield of the University of Central Florida’s Marine Turtle Research Group fixed solar powered tags on 44 turtles, which included 24 green and 20 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Scientists tracked their movement for about 2 to 3 months, following which the tags came off naturally. The ocean current was also monitored with the help of a device. The study showed that the turtles were swimming independently. Their positions differed from the current track by about 125 miles after just a few days. It was concluded that the behavior of the turtles helps them to reach favorable habitats.
As per the records of the Sea Turtle Conservancy, all species of sea turtles are currently listed under endangered or threatened species. Human activities like over-harvesting turtles for meat and shells and accidental by-catch in the hunt for fish are major threats to these creatures. They are also threatened by habitat loss, climate change, pollution and invasive species.