Turtle GPS – Science Nation

MILES O’BRIEN: Its time for this young
Loggerhead Turtle to go to work. KEN LOHMANN: We can tether turtles in these
little cloth harnesses. Put them into this tank and theyll swim in place. MILES O’BRIEN: University of North Carolina Biologist
Ken Lohmann studies sea turtles that are programmed from birth for an
extraordinary journey. KEN LOHMANN: The mother turtles bury the eggs
on the beach and then return to the sea and the eggs hatch about 50 to 60 days later. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the
National Science Foundation, Lohmann is learning how these reptiles use the Earths
magnetic field to navigate a 5 to 10 year journey around the Atlantic Ocean. KEN LOHMANN: The turtle seem to inherit a set of
responses that tell them what to do when they encounter specific
magnetic fields at particular locations. MILES O’BRIEN: This animal magnetism can be a
lifesaver. One field off Portugal triggers the turtles to turn
south, if they dont they will likely die, swept into frigid North Atlantic waters. In one lab test, turtles responded to magnetic fields
similar to what they would encounter off the coast of Florida.
The great majority of them turned southeast. KEN LOHMANN: Now, this is an exciting finding
because south easterly orientation, in this part of the world, would presumably
take turtles further into the Gulf Stream. So, the turtles actually have, what might be
considered, a crude global positioning system that is based on the Earths magnetic field. MILES O’BRIEN: And check out this experiment.
These turtle moves may look odd. KEN LOHMANN: The turtles will actually act out their
swimming behavior in air. MILES O’BRIEN: But this wave simulator recreates
the first environmental cue hatchling turtles respond to. KEN LOHMANN: And so swimming into waves is a
highly eliable trick that the turtles use to guide themselves offshore. MILES O’BRIEN: I guess you can call it, TPS. The turtle positioning system and while we humans
spend hundreds of dollars for devices like this, that tell us where in the world we are,
the turtles just know. Understanding how that works will help us
protect the species. Now the only question is, how can we help them
get out of their shell? For Science Nation, Im Miles OBrien.

Randy Schultz

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