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October 2000

Oceans: Shell Game

Visitors to Australia’s Mast Head Islet reined in green turtles for a wild ride over the water. Thrill-seekers climbed on the backs of sleeping turtles, startling them into action as they plowed through sand into the sea. It was “a game that requires a steady nerve and a bathing costume,” wrote Charles Barrett in National Geographic’s September 1930 article, “The Great Barrier Reef and Its Isles,” where this photograph was originally published. “Though a turtle can carry a person with ease, it is quite a feat to ride one after it has entered its natural sphere, for it moves swiftly.”

The turtle won this round, once it reached deep water, but about a thousand of its kin lost out to another local specialty. According to the article, a turtle-soup factory listed them on the ingredients labels of 36,000 tins of soup.
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To send this image as a postcard click here. Photograph by Horace Bristol