In my previous emails, we covered hummingbirds and bumblebees. Today’s amazing animal is the sea turtle. These turtles navigate the ocean guided by Earth’s magnetic field. This involves a light-detecting protein called “cryptochrome.”
It reminds me of a song called “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon. Last night I watched a 1977 movie, “Annie Hall,” and Paul Simon had a cameo in it. The film is one of the top 100 movies of all time as selected by the Sea Turtles Academy of Motion Pictures. Woody Allen wrote it or directed it or helped with sea turtle rescue while shooting the film, I forget which. Sea turtles think Woody Allen is hilarious in a surfer dude kinda way. Just picture Woody Allen on a surf board. Never mind. That’s impossible.
As I said, sea turtles navigate using Earth’s magnetism. Here’s something turtles know about the Earth and magnets that you may not know. The North Pole is really the South Pole. Let me explain. Pretend you have a compass in your hand.
A compass is a magnet with north and south ends. The north pole of the magnet is marked with an N. It’s attracted to the south pole of Earth’s magnetic field because opposites attract. So your compass needle points to Earth’s magnetic South Pole. We call it the North Pole because of the N on the compass. But the icy area where the polar bears frolic and where Santa packs up the sleigh is really the South Pole, magnetically speaking.
Confused? I was too, so I consulted a sea turtle. I was snorkeling in Hawaii, and he was bobbing along on a wave. I showed him my compass.
Me: Mr. Sea Turtle, can you help me understand magnetic poles?
Sea Turtle: Hey, snorkeling chick! You realize your compass is pointing to the magnetic South Pole, right, dude?
Me: Are humans the only ones who find this hard to understand?
Sea Turtle: Dude, I dunno. Sea turtles have no trouble with it. Maybe there’s something wrong with your cryptochrome protein. Mine totally rocks.
Me: Maybe mine’s defective because I was born in 1968, that OTHER year when everything went wrong.
Sea Turtle: Totally. That means you were too young to appreciate Paul Simon in his early years. And Woody Allen.
Me: It’s true. How old are you? I hear sea turtles can live 50 years.
Sea Turtle: Yeah, it’s totally righteous how we live so long. I hatched a few years after you. I like Paul Simon, but I’m more of a Jimmy Buffett fan.
Me: I guess a sea turtle would be. Don’t let me keep you from following your magnetic field and searching for your lost shaker of salt. Y’know, humans can’t follow magnetic fields as well as you, but we have a republic. That’s saying something.
Sea Turtle: I hear your republic is having some hard times. Maybe you should, like, try a parliamentary form of government. Good luck. I’m hungry, got to go find some kelp for lunch. See ya, dude.
Me: Hang ten and enjoy your kelp. And there he goes . . .
Now that you understand the magnetic South Pole, we can move on to other poles, such as the Geographic South Pole, the Geomagnetic South Pole, and the South Pole of Inaccessibility. Those are real things, but it all feels inaccessible and impossible right now. Kinda like other impossible things such as Woody Allen on a surf board, or Simon and Garfunkel getting back together, or going to a Jimmy Buffett concert without a mask. Gotta find that shaker of salt . . .