Sea Turtles Follow Magnetic Fields Back Home

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For nearly two decades, scientists have studied the migration patterns of loggerhead sea turtles. They have concluded that the sea turtles rely on Mother Earth’s magnetic fields, following them to find their way back home. They also utilize the magnetic resonances to navigate through the world’s oceans accurately. The ingenuity of these creatures is beyond the scope of understanding, but scientists have made some recent leaps in that department.

Female sea turtles, which have been recorded to swim thousands of miles just with the hope return to the shore they were born to lay eggs. They travel home by relying on unique magnetic signatures along coastlines, a new study finds. For over half a century, scientists have been intrigued by the process in which the turtles do this.

The study’s lead researcher, J. Roger Brothers, a graduate student of biology at the University of North Carolina said that the results of their study provided evidence that freshly hatched sea turtles take a mental photograph of the magnetic field of their birthplace. It could be said that they have a natural instinct to detect the specific magnetic resonance of the beach they hatched at.

In order to corroborate their findings, the scientists perused a database of files spanning back years of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) occasionally residing along Florida’s eastern coast, the largest sea turtle habitat in North America. The magnetic fields that act as an invisible barrier that shields the planet from harmful radiation change over time.

Earth’s core is encompassed by a layer of liquid-like metal, and as liquid-like metal splashes around, it generates irregularities in the magnetic field, causing some areas to strengthen and others to grow weaker. The researchers then pondered whether the loggerhead turtles changed their nesting locations in response to the magnetic fluctuations.

According to the data on magnetic field activity, from 1993 to 2011, the idea that the sea turtles use them to get back to their homes was confirmed. At specific times and locations, the magnetic field shifts so that signals from adjacent beaches group more tightly together. During those intervals, turtle nests densely covered the areas, scientists discovered. The opposite happens, too. There were significantly fewer nests that were much farther apart in the locations where magnetic resonances parted.

After the investigation, the researchers wrote that there is now strong evidence proving that sea turtles navigate to their nests, partially, by detecting and following magnetic fluctuations along coastlines. The way in which sea turtles detect and recognize the magnetic field’s patterns is still a mystery, but there is the possibility that the environment of their birthplaces could have had an adverse affect on their anatomy.

The loggerhead sea turtles, male and female, have a sixth sense that helps them navigate the seas around Earth by following the magnetic fields’ trail, either to nest or to lay their eggs back home. The method by which they gained the sense, or even how they invoke the ability is unknown, but studies like this one can be performed, and the beauty of the turtles can be much more appreciated.

By Matthew Austin Bowers

Science News
The Washington Post
Live Science

Photo by Rubén Moreno Montolíu – Flickr License