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'Righteous!' Nemo Depiction of Young Sea Turtles Was Surprisingly Accurate

Apr 09, 2015 10:15 PM EDT
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If you ever saw Pixar's Finding Nemo, you likely remember Squirt, the adorable "offspring" of Crush the sea turtle. The film depicts squirt and his fellow young turtles as lively, rambunctious children (watch a clip here), but experts had always thought the reality was that young sea turtles are often lethargic when young. Now new research shows that the movie may have been more accurate than experts even thought.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Current Biology, which details how tiny sea turtles even between 6 and 18 months old are very active swimmers.

Prior to this, experts had thought that after their arduous crawl off spawning beaches and into the water, baby sea turtles will simply let the ocean take them where they need to go for many months, disbursed and carried by the same currents that their parents use. They are rarely observed and hard to track during these "missing" first few years, and some experts even assumed that the vulnerable turtles found refuge among mats of floating seaweeds also swept up in the currents.

"What is exciting is that this is the first study to release drifters with small, wild-caught yearling or neonate sea turtles in order to directly test the 'passive drifter' hypothesis in these young turtles," Kate Mansfield, director of the University of Central Florida's Marine Turtle Research Group, explained in a recent release.

According to the study, Mansfield and her colleagues equipped 20 hatchling Kemp's ridley sea turtles and 24 hatching green sea turtles from the Gulf of Mexico with tiny solar-powered tags. The tags were tracked by satellite for a couple of months before shedding cleanly from the turtle shells. Next to the turtles, Mansfield deployed small, carefully-weighted and passively-drifting buoys that were also tracked by satellite. (Scroll to read on...)

When placed in the water next to two drifting buoys (blue lines), a test turtle (green line) was shown to have swam further and to the East.
(Photo : NOAA Fisheries) When placed in the water next to two drifting buoys (blue lines), a test turtle (green line) was shown to have swam further and to the East.

She and her team quickly found that the sea turtle paths significantly differed from the buoys, suggesting that the animals are indeed actively swimming and not simply letting the current take them where it pleases. Stunningly, the tiny-tot turtles covered as much as an additional 125 miles in the first few days of swimming, compared to the drifters.

"All species of sea turtles are endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act; knowing their distribution is an essential part of protecting them," Nathan Putman, the lead author of the study explained. "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."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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