This might be anthropomorphizing, but videos filmed in Hawaii and analyzed in a new study appear to show a couple of sea turtles making out. Marine biologists are surprised, because even reptiles as cute as turtles aren’t usually regarded as being so sensual. Or even sociable.

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The head touching “sometimes lasted several minutes and involved turtles rubbing the sides of their faces together, swiping their beaks in a gyrating motion, or pumping water in and out of their mouths and noses,” said Jesse Senko, an assistant research professor in the College of Global Futures at Arizona State University and the study author, as reported by Newswise. “The latter behavior pushes water past their chemosensory organs, which may allow the turtles to smell and thus recognize each other.” 

Related: Behind the scenes at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Don McLeish, a Hawaii resident and independent naturalist who has taken thousands of photos of sea creatures, filmed the turtles while snorkeling in Maui. The turtle footage caught four hawksbill turtles, three adult females and one juvenile male, engaging in 149 instances of social behaviors. Touching their heads together was the most frequent, and biting was the least common.

“That really changes the paradigm,” Senko said. “They were not viewed as social animals. … We don’t observe them that much in the wild.” That’s because sea turtles usually keep their distance. But in Hawaii, the clear water coupled with the turtles’ acclimatization to humans made this observation possible.

As is often the case in academia, a student did much of the nitty-gritty work. In this case, undergraduate Corinne Johnson was the one to tally up the behaviors in those many hours of footage. “I have never felt more inspired than I have while working on this project,” Johnson said, as reported by Newswise. “Going through all the videos was time-consuming, yet it was so exciting to be a part of this groundbreaking project on sea turtles, especially as an undergraduate student living in Arizona.”

Via Newswise

Lead image via Pexels