Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings (Caretta caretta L.) emerge from underground nests, scramble to the sea and begin a transoceanic migration by swimming away from their natal beach and into the open ocean. Evidence suggests that hatchlings sequentially use three different sets of cues to maintain orientation during their initial migration offshore. While on the beach, hatchlings find the ocean by crawling towards the lower, brighter seaward horizon and away from the dark, elevated silhouettes of vegetation and dunes. Upon entering the ocean, turtles initially orient seawards by swimming into waves, which can be detected as orbital movements from under water. Laboratory experiments have demonstrated that turtles can transfer a course initiated on the basis of waves or visual cues to a course mediated by a magnetic compass. Thus, by setting a magnetic course on the basis of nearshore cues that indicate the seaward direction, hatchlings may continue on offshore headings after entering deep water beyond sight of land. Sea turtles may use the earth's magnetic field not only as a cue for compass orientation but also as a source of world-wide positional information. Recent experiments have demonstrated that loggerheads can detect subtle differences in magnetic field inclination and intensity, two geomagnetic features that vary across the surface of the earth. Because most nesting beaches and oceanic regions are marked by a unique combination of these features, these findings raise the possibility that adult sea turtles navigate using a bicoordinate magnetic map.

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