Sea turtles are known for their incredible world travels. The migrations of a loggerhead turtle can take it more than 8,000 underwater miles in a single year, from Japan to Mexico and back again.
Others make the journey from the Carolinas or Florida all the way to North Africa.
When it comes time for female loggerheads to nest, though, it's all about home.
Despite the thousands of miles traveled previously, the turtles have an incredible ability to find their way back to within about 40 to 50 miles of the beach where they were born.
Scientists have long been baffled at this amazing feat. But they're finally able to explain why that happens in a new study. Researchers knew that turtles used the Earth's magnetic fields to navigate their sea travels. Scientists from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, also wanted to know if that same magnetic field helps guide the turtles back to their birth beach.
To do so, they researched records from 19 years worth of loggerhead sea turtle tracking and nesting off of Florida. Armed with genetic information from more than 800 nesting Florida loggerheads, they were able to conclude that on the beaches with similar magnetic signatures, there were greater numbers of turtles with genetic similarities.
That means that the constantly shifting magnetic field doesn't just guide the turtles as they swim throughout the world; it also helps them head back to where it all started.
Scientists still don't know exactly how the turtles are able to use that information, but think there could be something in their brain — even magnetic particles — that help them process the power of the field.
This is exciting news for those fighting to keep sea turtle populations healthy.