By Monitor

ONE of nature's greatest wonders is the ability of otherwise unexceptional animals to undertake long journeys for breeding or feeding purposes. Tiny birds fly daunting distances annually, fish move from ocean to ocean and on land African beasts ignore boundaries in spectacular migrations. Now it's the turn of the hitherto little known leatherback turtle to amaze us.

Britain's Royal Society has published this week research that reveal these turtles to be long-distance swimmers, for instance crossing the Southern Atlantic from West Africa to South America. Turtles are not easy to track but scientists at the University of Exeter have devised a simple transmitter with four lithium batteries that can be fitted on a turtle's back and send signals to a satellite receiver whenever the creature comes up for air. One turtle fitted out in this way was traced on its voyage from a breeding beach in Gabon in West Africa to feeding waters off the Brazilian coast -- a 5'000 mile ocean marathon that took almost six months. The research programme involved 25 turtles and found that there were three major routes of migration. One use of this remarkable research will be to warn industrial scale fishing flotillas of areas where turtles may be swimming -- they are easily caught in nets and die.

Good news footnote: the leatherback turtles' favourite food is -- jellyfish!


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