The “Lost Years” of Baby Sea Turtles Revealed in New Study

There is nothing quite like mounted transmitters atop the shell of a baby sea turtle to help scientists track and account for the “lost years” in the early life of young sea turtles. Everyone has seen footage of baby sea turtles hatching and immediately making their way to the ocean’s protective waters against a feeding frenzy of sea gulls feasting on the delicacy of fresh turtle meat at a time their shells are little more than soft leather.

However, the next appearance for the elite minority that survive that savage initiation shows adolescent turtles with hard protective shells. Now a joint study by scientists from the universities of Wisconsin, Florida Atlantic University, Central Florida, and Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science reveals important insights into those aptly termed “lost years”.

The solar powered transmitters allowed young turtles to be studied for periods ranging from 17 to 220 days. What they found was that the young turtles are most interested in staying in environments where they can both get protective concealment and a “metabolic boost” in their growth rate. They find both inside sargassum seaweed. As long as they remain still in the ubiquitous strands of the sargassum, they are virtually impossible to be detected by predators.

This also allows them to remain closer to the water’s surface to stay warm. In fact, they were found to be in waters as much as 6 degrees warmer than the surface temperature of their shells. It is believed the data will help conservation efforts designed to protect the natural habitats of the turtles.

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