New research examining the migrating patterns of sea turtles shows that their very first experiences in the ocean can determine the rest of their lives. Using satellite tracking data overlaid with the Earth's currents, scientists found that the locations a turtle encounters when he's adrift in his earliest years will pull him back, time and time again.
If the sites a young turtle visits are favorable, he'll set those as permanent migration spots -- something like establishing a vacation house. But -- even more interesting -- if they aren't favorable, a turtle may not even participate in the great migration at all, foregoing it for a life in the open ocean.
"Hatchlings' swimming abilities are pretty weak, and so they are largely at the mercy of the currents," lead researcher Rebecca Scott Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, told BBC. "If they drift to a good site, they seem to imprint on this location, and then later actively go there as an adult; and because they're bigger and stronger they can swim there directly."
The study, which will soon be reported in the journal Ecology, can help inform better conservation strategies and tell policymakers exactly where they need to set up protected area for turtles -- and for hatchlings who are just drifting by.