If you can say two things with certainty about sea turtles, it is that they are incredibly important, and they look great in swimsuits. Well thanks to a recent study by Florida Atlantic University, we can add that it is both cute and educational to put sea turtles on treadmills for science.
The study focuses on the delicate “frenzy” period when recently hatched sea turtles must crawl from their egg clutch to the protection of the ocean. According to the FAU press release, during this period, the baby turtles must scramble to the sea, navigating by the light of the horizon and exposing themselves to predators and other natural threats in the process. Under the best of circumstances, this puts the little sea turtles in an ultra vulnerable position, but in modern times the frenzy period is further complicated by human-made lights near the shore that often disorient the babies, and lead them away from the shore, on roads and into the mouths of predators.
The FAU’s study sought to examine the physical toll such extended, confused journeys can have on the sea turtles’ ability to swim once they do make it to the water. To measure the movement of the hatchlings, researchers placed some freshly hatched, frenzying turtles on a little treadmill to measure their pace and energy levels, then placed them in water, equipped with little swimsuits to catch their secretions, where they could monitor their progress. The turtles were all returned to the waters of their natural habitats after the tests.
After comparing their findings with observations of sea turtle hatchlings in the wild, the researchers found that while an extended frenzy period exposes the young creatures to more external hazards, it doesn’t seem to unduly fatigue them for their subsequent journey out to sea. Luckily, even when frenzying, it seems like baby sea turtles know to stop and catch their breath.
As an added bonus to the relatively positive findings, the FAU released a video of the little cuties being put through their paces, which has created a small, well, frenzy on the internet. Containing footage of a sea turtle hatchling waddling up a treadmill, and some paddling along in their swimsuits, it’s the kind of science we can all agree is worth paying attention to.