Endangered Turtle Makes Record 647-Day Journey

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
January 24, 2008

A leatherback sea turtle recently completed the longest recorded migration of any sea vertebrate: 12,774 miles (20,558 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean.

The journey, tracked by satellite, provides the first record of a trans-Pacific migration by a leatherback.

The giant reptile began the trek in Indonesia's warm tropical waters in the summer of 2003.

Traversing the equatorial line, it encountered strong, swift currents before passing close to Hawaii's Kauai island.

Along the way, the turtle may have encountered swordfish, tuna, and other migrating leatherbacks returning after a successful foraging season off the North American coast.

Some of the turtle's dives sent it plunging into the cold darkness 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) below the ocean surface.

After 647 days of swimming, the animal finally reached the cool waters of the Pacific Northwest—where a feast of jellyfish awaited.

The turtle made this "epic journey spanning tropical and temperate waters of the Pacific just to eat jellyfish off Oregon," said Scott Benson of NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Moss Landing, California.

Benson is a co-author of the study published recently in the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology.

Steep Decline

The leatherback sea turtle is the world's largest turtle. It can grow as long as six and a half feet (two meters) and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms).

Leatherbacks are also "patch feeders," eating only when food is abundant.

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