October 2, 2023

Turned turtle

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turtle-rock-in-sardiniaBy Alastair Savage

The gales had turned the Caribbean grey.

Aboard the launch, the scientists huddled under an awning. Gusts swept through the sides. Drops beat down on the canvas. Water swirled around its aluminium poles.

Dr Murdoch shivered as she pulled her sweater around her neck. It was the first time she had worn it in months, and it scratched her throat.

In front of her, Dr Burton was opening a packet of sandwiches. The wax paper crackled as he peeled it away. Munching solemnly, he stared at the pewter waves.

From time to time, both scientists glanced at a screen showing a radar map. It beeped regularly. Dr Murdoch began to tut.

“Not much movement today,” she said.

“I can’t say I blame them,” Dr Burton replied. “I wish I’d stayed at home myself.”

“When the storms come I always worry that it will tear the tracking device off their shells. It’s silly, I know, but I always think it.”

“No worry,” said Dr Burton. “You don’t get to 130 years old by pushing yourself when you don’t want to. Anyway, look, she’s all right. The readings are coming through loud and clear.”

“I know. I can’t believe how much we’ve learned. Who would have thought that a single turtle could migrate so many thousand miles?”

“Migration. We call it that, but maybe it’s nothing of the sort. We tracked the turtle and we plotted its route, but migration – that’s just interpretation. Why do we always assume that wild animals know exactly where they’re going?”

“The turtle did the same route twice,” Dr Murdoch insisted.

“Maybe it got lost once, and has been going round and round in circles ever since.”

“All the others follow it. It can’t be lost. Our data disproves it.”

“As you say.”

“It’s a silly theory anyway, and you know it.”

“No sillier than suggesting that turtles follow the electromagnetic patterns of the earth,” said Dr Burton as he flicked a piece of ham rind out into the ocean.

“I wish this rain would stop,” sighed Dr Murdoch. “Then I wouldn’t have to listen to any more of your insane theories.”

“Oh that’s right. All theories are valid except the most obvious ones.”

“I, for one, look forward to the publication of your academic paper on why the great migrations of the animal kingdom take place just because the species happen to be lost.”

“I’ll fill it with footnotes referring to articles in obscure journals,” added Dr Burton. “That always works.”

On the other side of the boat, the machine pinged on. Dr Murdoch hugged herself and looked out at the downpour as it lashed the heaving waves.

(c) Alastair Savage, 2014

The photo shows a rock that I found off the North Coast of Sardinia, near the town of La Pelosa. I was astonished to see that it looked just like a turtle facing right: with head, beak, mouth and eyes, a long flipper and a curved shell. The ancients might well have crafted a myth around it to explain its petrified form.

Shortly afterwards, I was stung by a jellyfish.

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