For the sake of curiosity, David Booth, from the University of Queensland, Australia, decided to measure the rate of oxygen consumption in newly hatched turtles as they swim to safety.
Hatchlings on the Great Barrier Reef’s coral cays are in a high risk zone. The dash from the nesting area to the water is filled with predators and other dangers. As many as 30% don’t make it and Booth was curious to know just how much physical stress these young turtles are under.
Booth traveled to Heron Island where his lab was located right next to a popular turtle nesting beach. He collected several clutches of eggs and relocated them to the very edge of the nesting site where the mothers would not interrupt. Several months later he returned to collect a few newly hatched turtles as they were on their way to sea.
They were transported to the lab where they were fitted with a lyrcra swim suit and placed in a sea water aquarium. These tiny little turtles swam frantically for 18 hours. In the beginning they swam very hard with their front flippers and heads down. They only switched to ‘doggy paddle’ to come up for air and would immediately switch back when the came down again. After several hours of this behavior their activity slowed and they spent more time doggy paddling and finally, after 12 hours, they started to take breaks.
During analysis, Booth found that oxygen consumption fell rapidly during the first half hour, declined more slowly during the next several hours, and eventually leveled off after 12 hours. They consumed 4.79 kiloJules of energy during their 18 hour swim. This means that they carry 10 times as much energy in their yolk remnants as they need to reach the open ocean.
If they survive the predators, the young turtles aren’t at risk of running out of energy before they reach safety. With this excess energy, Booth believes that they could survive for about 2 weeks without needing food.
Copyright © 2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC