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By Crystal Gammon
updated 5/16/2012 5:41:14 PM ET

When it comes to leatherback turtles, the world’s largest species of sea turtle, there’s a conundrum: The species itself is critically endangered, but at least one leatherback population is stable — on the rise, even — while others plummet.

Now, researchers may have discovered why some of these turtles are doing better than others. Studying two leatherback turtle populations, one that is declining and one that seems to be increasing, the researchers say the answer might be simple: food.

“We saw very big differences in their traveling speeds from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds,” said Helen Bailey, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who led the study. “We take that to mean one population is stopping to forage on a nice dense patch of prey, while the other group keeps moving because it’s constantly in search of food.”

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