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Out of one's shell

In first, olive ridley turtle spotted off Eilat

Having possibly swum all the way from India, female seen mating with hawksbill turtle, also a rare visitor to Gulf of Eilat

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Olive ridley turtle nesting on Escobilla Beach, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Claudio Giovenzana www.longwalk.it, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Olive ridley turtle nesting on Escobilla Beach, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Claudio Giovenzana www.longwalk.it, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

An olive ridley sea turtle, believed to have swum all the way from India, was seen for the first time ever off the Red Sea coast of Eilat this week.

She was spotted by a member of the sailing club of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, mating with a male of a different species — a hawksbill turtle.

Female turtles usually return to the beaches where they were born to give birth.

But as Yaniv Levy, Director of the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center, explained to The Times of Israel, nature’s rules are often broken.

Sometimes, one or two members of a species will break ranks and look for a new breeding ground, so as to spread the risk, and literally not put all of their eggs into one basket.

In this particular case, the olive ridley turtle — if she gets pregnant at all — would not give birth to offspring that survive because she mated with an individual from a different species.

Asked whether inter-species mating was common, Levy quipped that when male turtles sense the hormones of a female, they don’t stop to check what she looks like before mounting her. Sometimes, he added, threesomes form when a male climbs on top of another male who is copulating to try to take his place.

The olive ridley, whose name comes from the olive color of its carapace, is mainly found in tropical regions of the South Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Levy postulated that this particular female possibly came from the western coast of India.

Ronni Meir, the sailing club member who spotted her, immediately alerted the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. He said the mating took around 40 minutes and that he was frightened the pair would be hit by passing boats.

Thousands of female olive ridleys usually meet on the same beaches to lay their eggs in a mass synchronized nesting event called arribada.

The olive ridley is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The hawksbill, seen only rarely off the Eilat coast, is critically endangered.

The turtle mating season is only just beginning and goes on until September.

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