by Anita Baskin-Salzberg & Allen Salzberg.
SEA TURTLESSea turtles are some of the largest turtles in the world and live in almost every ocean of the world. Their smooth shells and paddlelike flippers help them speed through the water as fast as 15 miles (24 km) per hour. These long-distance travelers have been known to swim up to 3,000 miles (4,828 km).
Although sea turtles cannot withdraw their heads into their shells, the adults are protected from predators by their shells, large size, and thick scaly skin on their heads and necks.
Because sea turtles are difficult to study in the open ocean, scientists are just beginning to learn about the life history of sea turtles. Today, radio transmitters, attached to nesting turtles, help track the sea creatures on their travels and provide valuable information.
Although sea turtles move swiftly in the ocean, they are slow and defenseless on land. Male sea turtles almost never leave the water. Female sea turtles leave the ocean only to lay eggs and, for most species, nest only at night. A female may nest every two to three years.
Nesting can take between one and three hours. After a female turtle drags herself up the beach, she hollows out a pit with her back legs and deposits from fifty to two hundred eggs the size of golf balls. When the last egg is laid, the turtle covers the eggs with sand, tamps down the sand with her plastron, and flings more sand about with her flippers to erase any signs of the nest.
After about two months, the hatchling turtles emerge at night. The light reflected off the water from the sky guides them to the sea. These days, car headlights, street lamps, or lights on buildings near the beach cause some hatchlings to travel in the wrong direction. Waiting herons make fast meals of other hatchlings. Any babies still on the beach in the morning are easily picked off by predators or die in the hot sun. It is thought that when the surviving hatchlings reach maturity, they return to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.
AUSTRALIAN FLATBACK This medium-sized sea turtle nest on beaches in unpopulated areas of the northern coast of Australia. Saltwater crocodiles, as well as monitor lizards and foxes, sometimes eat small adult turtles while they are nesting.
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