16 June 2015

Seven Sea Turtle Wonders

Artwork by Mike Yap

To develop an appreciation for something can take as little as a glimpse – an instant connection – or sometimes a profound amount of time to see the beauty within. In the life of James Spotila, a remarkable sea turtle biologist, it only took a sighting of a healthy leatherback about to lay its eggs to be held captivated by it forever. Such a moment held a big part of him, enough to commit his lifetime into studying these wonderful, often miraculous sea creatures.

Since World Sea Turtle Day, June 16, is especially dedicated to the 7 sea turtle species (Green turtle, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Flatback) we have today, let us take the time to see how amazing and resilient they really are.

1. Did you know that sea turtles don’t have sex chromosomes? Instead, sex is determined by temperature at which eggs incubate. In the case of green turtles, at 28oC, hatchlings develop into males; at 31oC the hatchlings grow into females [1]. This has great implication in conservation [2].

2. The largest recorded leatherback turtle weighs nearly a ton [1]. With jellyfish as its main food, it’s kind of hard to imagine how much it has to eat to weigh that much.

3. Sea turtles have magnetite in their brains; they use it as their internal magnetic compass [1]. They don’t have the superpowers of Magneto but they are tuned to migrate thousands of miles in the ocean and get back to the beach were they hatched.

4. Different species bury their eggs in sand at varying depths. Don't worry the eggs have porous shells so they can breatheThe shallowest depth is observed for Olive ridley and Kemp’s rildey nests at 15 inches while the deepest is for leatherback eggs buried at 25 inches. The deeper it is, the more stable the temperature [2].

5. Sea turtles have to spend at least a decade or more in the open sea before going to back to mate and reproduce in their natal beach [1]. Imagine that they are already independent from the time that they were hatchlings, racing to the open sea. It only becomes tougher (and tougher) for the succeeding years as they have to avoid being captured in destructive shrimp trawls, longlines, and gillnets. What is more worrisome is their affinity to ingest plastics which they mistake for a sumptuous jellyfish.

6. Sea turtles are excellent divers and can prolong their breathing underwater for 45 minutes. The deepest dive a leatherback has bagged is 4250 m [3], beating that of a sperm whale at 3686 m [1].

7. They have survived the mass extinction which obliterated dinosaurs and so have lived for 110 million years now [1]. And it is of course in our hands to make certain that they get to be seen and conserved by the next generations.

The list of how beautiful sea turtles are goes on. Never cease to see and celebrate what’s amazing.

We have considerable information on the seven species of sea turtles. Feel free to visit us at SeaLifeBase, or become a collaborator. Happy World Sea Turtle Day!

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[1] Spotila, J.R. (2004). Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to their Biology, Behavior and Conservation. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
[2] Spotila, J.R. (2011). Saving Sea Turtles. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
[3] OBIS Search Interface. http://www.iobis.org/mapper/ [Accessed 6/8/2015]. 


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