July 3, 2018
The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is one of seven species of sea turtle in our oceans. Six of the seven species are currently endangered, with the loggerhead classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. From the moment they’re born as hatchlings, baby loggerheads must fight for survival. In fact, as few as one in 1,000 survive into adulthood.
Conservation of these fascinating migrating creatures is vital. In our aquarium you’ll find the 35-year-old Omiros. He’s a big boy, weighing almost 100 kg. We rescued him from Greece, and he’s stayed in our care because he’s blind, meaning he would struggle to survive in the wild.
To help you learn more about Omiros, here’s all you need to know about loggerhead sea turtles.
They’re found in subtropical seas. Loggerhead sea turtles are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. They spend their time in oceans, shallow estuarial waters, and on nesting beaches.
They eat a lot. They are bottom-feeders, usually eating small invertebrates, jellyfish, fish, seaweed and brown algae. They also use their powerful jaws for crushing the shells of crabs and other animals, before eating them too.
A long time. They live between 47-67 years, reaching sexual maturity between 17-33 years old.
Luckily, people are looking out for them. As well as taking steps to save our oceans, this endangered species is being protected by volunteers who – amongst other actions – are helping decrease the amount of artificial light on beaches where loggerheads nest.
Loggerhead sea turtles live in subtropical areas on either side of the equator, spending their days in open oceans, shallow coastal waters and estuarial waters, where temperature is just right for them. They live in waters around 13.3–28 °C during non-nesting season, whilst 27–28 °C is suitable for nesting females.
They sleep at night and are most active during the day. If you were to spend a day in the company of these interesting creatures, you’d see them ambling around the ocean, and staying submerged for between four and seven hours at a time before heading up to the surface for air.
Female loggerheads mate every two to three years. During the mating season, a male approaches a female, and tries to win her over with nuzzling, biting, and head and flipper movements. If there are competitors around, the female swims aside to let the males fight it out. The strongest turtle — usually the winner — now has the right to mate with the female.
Mating takes place on the main migration routes between feeding and breeding grounds. In the Northern Hemisphere, mating takes place between March and June, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it takes place between October and March.
Following mating, the female swims to their natal beach (incredibly, the same beach where they were born) to nest. The average sea turtle lays around 110 eggs in a single nest, laying dozens each night as they return to the land before heading back into the oceans during the day.
Once the female loggerhead has laid all her eggs, she incubates them for two months before hatching. This is when her work is done, however, and she swims back into the ocean to leave her little ones to start their lives alone.
The fight for survival starts before these cute critters are even born. Predators are on the scene as soon as the mother lays her eggs on the beach. Atlantic loggerheads’ main nesting grounds include a 20-mile stretch of coast along Florida’s east coast, whilst Pacific loggerheads migrate back to beaches in Japan from feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.
Spend a day on one of these beaches and you’ll likely see raccoons and wild pigs, crabs and birds, all interested in feeding on the tiny eggs of the mother’s unborn hatchlings. Once they hatch during the main hatching seasons of May to October, you’ll witness one of nature’s most breathtaking (and often heartbreaking natural wonders) as each tiny hatchling starts its little journey into the wild world.
After hatching, the race is on. These tiny turtles use their flipper power to make their way to the ocean. But it’s not just the beach where they’re in danger. There are more predators once they reach the water. Unfortunately, man has contributed to the decrease in loggerhead sea turtle numbers. Fish and sharks feed on loggerhead turtles throughout their lives, the latter even feeding on loggerheads when they’re fully sizes – that’s a 160 kg meal!
Young loggerheads spend the majority of their time eating and growing until they reach sexual maturity. They aren’t sociable animals and swim the oceans alone, only migrating to new breeding grounds once they reach adulthood. With any luck and with the help of dedicated volunteers, they’ll live long lives, swimming the world’s sub-tropical oceans.
Buy admission tickets to see Omiros, our resident loggerhead sea turtle, and get face-to-face with more fascinating sea creatures from our seas at Blue Reef Newquay.