Thanks to Rheana, Eligh, and Isaiah for these great questions! Please feel free to contribute any other questions or things that you've learned.
The boys and I were just discussing sea turtles and how they breathe thru their nostrils rather than water and inquiring minds have some questions I thought we should ask the experts about!
Isaiah "if turtles breathe air? Does this mean they can smell?"
Sea turtles have chemoreceptors (sensory organs) in their throat and nose and appear to have a good sense of smell. My co-worker did a quick read of the literature and this is one of the newer areas of research. From skimming through this article (Attached to this email), scientists are unsure of whether or not they have the same sense of smell in air so that’s what this study was trying to find out. In summary, what they did was set up an experiment where loggerhead sea turtles were exposed to air that either had no smell or the smell of food. When they were exposed to air that smelled like food, they were more likely to have more activity relating to feeding (e.g. diving, looking for food).
Eligh "and if they can smell do they remember a certain smell? Like how a baby knows it's moms smell , would a turtle know the smell of its caregivers (or surrounding? This part is my add in)
Female turtles lay eggs and then leave, so they are not likely in contact with their offspring so smell probably wouldn’t play into that. We know that female sea turtles return to the same beach (or a beach very close by) as they were born. But – how do they know where that is when they spend the majority of their lives swimming around in the ocean?
Some other suggestions from the article might be that airborne smells can help a sea turtle identify good places to eat. Perhaps it helps with navigation? The paper writes, “For example, turtles migrating through open ocean might detect nearby land by perceiving odorants from coastal vegetation or soil; similarly, on a smaller spatial scale, airborne odors from decaying turtle eggs laid in previous seasons, or of other turtles nesting on land, might signal the existence of nearby nesting areas.”
The information above comes from a paper by Endres et al (2009): Perception of airborne odours by loggerhead sea turtles and my personal knowledge/work with sea turtles.