The ‘Lost Years’ of Loggerhead Sea Turtles Solved

A juvenile Loggerhead 250 miles off the Californian coast for the first time showed scientists where these creatures spend years of their juvenile life. Credit: Paula Olson/NOAA Fisheries
Date:14 January 2015 Author: William Horne Tags:, , , , ,

A NOAA Fisheries research survey more than 200 miles off the Southern California Coast has deciphered an important mystery surrounding what is known as ‘the lost years’ of the Pacific Loggerhead Turtle.

The Loggerhead sea turtle lays its eggs on the beaches of Japan’s East coast. Their adult lives are largely spent around Baja California and the rich and warm waters of the Pacific Ocean found there.

The mystery has always been where the juvenile Loggerheads spend their years after they disappear into the Northern Pacific after hatching. This has lead to the unaccounted for period being named ‘the lost years’.

“It’s one of those great ‘aha’ moments in science,” said Scott Benson, a marine ecologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We’ve always known they were out there somewhere, we just didn’t know where.”

Although the journey from Japan to the US is around a whopping 6000 miles, the vast trek still cannot make up the missing years. Now, however, scientists think theu have cracked this contemporary aquatic enigma, and say it is an important finding that extends well beyond the simple satisfaction of curiosity.

Essentially, this new knowledge will greatly improve sea turtle conservation efforts. Conservation Organisations simply can’t conserve and protect animals if they don’t know where they are.

Loggerheads can get entangled and killed in many kinds of fishing nets. Improved information about their route and timing can, therefore, help NOAA Fisheries manage West Coast fisheries to better protect the endangered turtles.

“It’s like a missing piece of the puzzle we just finally got on the board,” said Jeffrey Seminoff, a marine ecologist who leads the Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program at the SWFSC in La Jolla, Calif. “This is the first time we’ve encountered an aggregation of these lost-year turtles far offshore of California. It looks like a very important area for turtles that have just crossed the Pacific.”

Below is an interactive graphic that provides more information and content about the loggerheads’ trials and tribulations. To use it, simply mouse over the map and click on the icons that appear for the associated content. On mobile, simply tap the map to activate the buttons.

The big red target shows the approximate area where the juvenile turtles were located.