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  WWF 1 Dec 05
Two-headed marine turtle found in Costa Rica

Ostional, Costa Rica – A deformed two-headed olive ridley sea turtle hatchling was found on a beach on Costa Rica’s northwest Pacific coast, leading experts to believe that contaminants, increased temperatures possibly resulting from climate change and other factors may be at play.

“This is something that no one here has seen in more than 50 years of working with sea turtles,” said Melvin and Olger Chavarría, owners of a local lodge who found the hatchling.

Despite being born with two heads, the turtle hatchling appears to be in good health. It has a full range of movement and is able to move in one direction in what looks like a well-coordinated effort of both front flippers to propel the body forward.

“The specific cause of this deformity is not known," said Carlos Drews, WWF's regional coordinator for marine turtles. "But, increased temperatures as an outcome of climate change can cause drastic modifications to the incubation environment for nesting sea turtles. Industrial and agricultural contaminants that have reached the sea and have become incorporated into the food chain can also affect sea turtles.”

After being kept for one week in an aquarium for observation, the turtle hatchling has been released to the sea. Both heads have been able to emerge above the water's surface to breathe, with each head seeming to control the movements of the front flipper adjacent to it. Breathing is not synchronous, but rather the result of each head seeking the surface independently with one-flipper strokes.

“We have no idea of the condition of the internal organs of this hatchling, so we cannot estimate its probability of survival," added Drews. "Severe obstacles, mainly fishing nets and fishhooks, will also add to the turtle's chances of survival at sea.”

WWF's turtle conservation programme is monitoring the situation, particularly as the beaches of Ostional are one of three places in the world where thousands of the oliver ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) nest.

“Factors that affect sea turtle development must be investigated because the species can serve as indicators for recognizing the impacts of climatic alterations or pesticides and agrochemicals on coastal and marine ecosystems," said Drews. "The alarming condition of sea turtles today points to an urgent need to improve our relationship with the oceans.”

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