A major new study has revealed that loggerhead sea turtles are able to find the beach where they were born by using magnetic fields, with their own internal GPS leading them straight back to their birthplace decades later.
Kenneth Lohmann, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained that these sea turtles also sometimes end up alighting on a different beach, but only if the magnetic field is similar to the one where they first hatched, as Futurity reports.
“Loggerhead sea turtles are fascinating creatures that begin their lives by migrating alone across the Atlantic Ocean and back. Eventually they return to nest on the beach where they hatched—or else, as it turns out, on a beach with a very similar magnetic field.”
When it comes to the factor of genetic similarities among loggerhead sea turtles, magnetic fields happen to be the main predictor of this similarity, despite what could be extreme distances or differences in the beaches that these turtles were born on.
The new study is particularly useful when it comes to deciding on the best possible conservation methods for these loggerhead sea turtles. For instance, it has been found that large buildings that crowd beaches, seawalls, and even power lines can easily interfere with magnetic fields, which would create confusion for turtles.
This could lead them to swim to the wrong beach, although they would still find one that had a similar magnetic field to the one where they had first hatched.
Loggerhead sea turtles likely “imprint” on the magnetic field of their nesting area at a very young age, or even before they hatch, according to scientists at UNC. https://t.co/V3BYkkEc2R
— NPR (@NPR) April 12, 2018
Sea turtles are graced with a kind of imprint that may occur immediately before they have hatched or directly afterward, but this particular imprint that acts like a GPS allows them to be born on a beach somewhere along the East Coast, travel as far away as Africa, and still manage to eventually migrate back home.
J. Roger Brothers, who headed the recent study on loggerhead sea turtles, notes that other animals are also deeply in tune with magnetic fields that help to guide them back to their birthplace, according to NPR.
“A lot of different animals including sea turtles detect Earth’s magnetic field and then derive navigational information from it and use it to find their way across or throughout long-distance migrations.”
According to The News & Observer, the new study could have a direct impact on our understanding of other animals that are also migratory, as Kenneth Lohmann explained.
“This is an important new insight into how sea turtles navigate during their long-distance migrations. It might have important applications for the conservation of sea turtles, as well as other migratory animals such as salmon, sharks and certain birds.”
Along with loggerhead sea turtles, there are six other species of sea turtles, and six out of seven of these are currently recorded as either being an endangered species or one that is under grave threat.
The new study on the ability of loggerhead sea turtles to find their way back to their home beach by using the earth’s magnetic fields has been published in Current Biology.