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Turtle's cold water survival strategy.

When fishermen netted a 500-pound leatherback turtle off the coast of Rhode Island early this month, they called leatherback expert James Spotila. The phone call gave Spotila, a biologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, the opportunity to conduct tests on this endangered turtle.

Previous research conducted by Spotila's team showed that leatherback turtles swimming in the warm waters off Costa Rica have very low metabolic rates. However, the 5-foot-long turtle was snared in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, and Spotila wondered what its metabolic rate would reveal.

Most reptiles are cold-blooded. In a frigid environment, their metabolic rate drops and their body temperature adjusts to match that of the surrounding air or water. Mammals, by contrast, rev up their metabolic rate in a nippy environment to keep their body temperature toasty.

Spotila espouses a theory that leatherback turtles and some other large animals survive through "gigantothermy" (SN: 4/28/90, p.263). He believes these large creatures survive in cold climates by restricting blood flow to the extremities, a method that keeps their massive body core warm.

Preliminary data from his team's examination of the turtle captured off Rhode Island support that hypothesis. The researchers discovered that the turtle's body temperature was 27.8[degrees]C, about 8[degrees]C warmer than the surrounding water. In addition, the metabolic rate of the turtle was not very different from the rate measured in turtles swimming in warmer waters.
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Title Annotation:leatherback turtles may restrict blood flow to extremities
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 26, 1992
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