sea turtle facts

14 Sea Turtle Facts: Unveiling Secrets of Ocean Wanderers

Sea turtles are undoubtedly one of the most famous and loved marine animals. They are ancient reptiles that have inhabited our oceans for millions of years, contributing significantly to the balance of marine ecosystems. By exploring this list of sea turtle facts, we will understand their role in ocean health and the need to protect them.

One of the most interesting facts about sea turtles is their extraordinary navigation skills. Out of the seven sea turtle species on Earth, some travel thousands of miles of open ocean to return to their nesting beaches. Let's combine our knowledge of sea turtle facts with a commitment to conservation to help these creatures survive.

Care to learn more about their family? Check our collection of general turtle facts.

Superb Facts About Sea Turtles

sea turtle swimming
Photo by Giorgia Doglioni on Unsplash

1. They can live for over 80 years.

Interestingly, some sea turtles live beyond 80 years. Over the centuries, they have successfully navigated diverse ocean environments and changes. Moreover, these animals are indicators of ecosystem health and stability.

One fascinating aspect of sea turtle biology lies in the "annual rings" in the humerus bones of their flippers, similar to tree trunks. These concentric rings contain chemical markers that reveal the turtle's age, diet, and habitat yearly. By examining these bone structures, researchers can better understand their life history.

2. There are seven existing sea turtle species.

two sea turtles on shallow water
Photo by Travis Colbert on Unsplash

Today, seven species of sea turtles live in the Earth's oceans. The Green Sea Turtle is the largest hard-shelled species. It feeds on sea grasses and algae. Conversely, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle uses its powerful jaws to crack open the shells of crustaceans and mollusks. 

Though smaller, Olive Ridley Sea Turtles perform mass synchronized nesting events. Meanwhile, the Hawksbill Turtles have a sharp bird-like beaks and a shell with beautiful patterns. Native to Australia, the Flatback Turtles have a flatter carapace. 

Finally, Leatherback Sea Turtles are the largest of all sea turtles. Their soft but leathery shell separates them from other species with hard shells. On the other hand, Kemp's Ridley sea turtle species are the smallest.

Read more: 7 Types of Sea Turtles.

3. Seat turtles don’t retract into their shells.

Unlike other turtles, sea turtles can't retract their flippers and heads into their shells. Over millions of years, these animals have evolved streamlined bodies, favoring speed and agility in exchange for self-defense. Their flattened shells help them glide effortlessly through ocean currents4

Moreover, they possess large, paddle-shaped flippers essential for survival. These powerful limbs not only enable them to swim efficiently over vast distances, but they are also crucial tools for maneuverability. 

In particular, the rear flippers act like rudders, helping them steer and maintain balance underwater. Their underwater dexterity also allows them to dodge potential predators and seek their next meal.

If you are curious about more shelled animals, head to our armadillo facts.

4. They have no teeth.

sea turtle open mouth
Photo by Bruce Warrington on Unsplash

Instead of teeth, sea turtles possess beak-like mouths with sharp edges of keratin, the same rigid material found in our nails and hair. This unique adaptation allows them to grasp, tear, and shred their food, enabling them to feast on diverse prey.

Besides their beaks, these turtles have backward-facing spines called papillae inside their mouths. These spines stop slippery prey like jellyfish from wriggling free and escaping into the water. The structure and arrangement of the papillae vary among species, mirroring their specific diets and feeding habits.

5. They can hold their breath underwater for 4 to 7 hours.

These reptiles cannot extract oxygen from the water like fish. Making up for this inability, they can hold their breath for 2 to 7 hours3. Moreover, the metabolic rate of an inactive sea turtle decreases, allowing it to breathe longer. 

This remarkable ability keeps sea turtles safe from predators. It lets them explore the ocean's depths without frequently surfacing for air. Additionally, their heart rate slows down while submerged, enabling them to prolong their breath-holding. 

As they dive deeper and hold their breath, they experience "bradycardia," which may result in up to nine minutes elapsing between heartbeats. This process involves organs like the brain and heart receiving adequate oxygen. At the same time, less critical tissues function with reduced oxygen levels. 

The succeeding sea turtle facts talk more about three of the species.

6. Leatherback sea turtles can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.

With colossal adults reaching up to 7 feet in length and weighing an astonishing 2,000 pounds, these marine giants are an impressive sight. Yet, it's not only their enormous size that captures our fascination. 

Instead of the hard bony carapaces of most sea turtles, the leatherback has a distinctive shell. This shell increases the turtle's maneuverability and enables them to dive to mind-boggling depths of up to 4,200 feet below the ocean surface. 

Furthermore, this softer shell means leatherbacks can withstand colder water temperatures, allowing them to enter depths other turtles can't reach. 

7. The Green Sea Turtle is a vegetarian.

green sea turtle on ocean floor
Photo by James Thornton on Unsplash

Green Sea Turtles are the only herbivores among the sea turtle family. They feed primarily on seagrasses and algae, which abound in shallow coastal waters. Moreover, thanks to their serrated jaws, perfectly adapted for tearing and consuming vegetation, they can eat as much algae and grass as they want. 

These turtles contribute significantly to the vitality of seagrass beds and coral reefs by keeping algae and seagrass populations in check. Additionally, Green Sea Turtles get their names from their diet. The chlorophyll-rich seagrasses and algae these sea turtles eat give the fat beneath their shells their trademark greenish hue. 

As they mature, green sea turtles develop an entirely herbivorous diet from their omnivorous habits as juveniles.

Halfway through the article? Continue browsing the rest of the sea turtle facts.

8. The hawksbill turtle is a master of disguise.

Hawksbill Sea Turtles have intricately patterned shells that camouflage them within their coral reef habitats. Colored brown, amber, and orange, their scutes, or bony plates, also feature black, yellow, or green streaks. This fantastic color palette allows these turtles to evade predators and sneak up on prey.

Additionally, their sharp, bird-like beak is a crucial adaptation for their feeding habits. Their beaks can reach into narrow crevices of coral reefs, where they scrounge for their favorite meal: sponges. 

Their diet comprises up to 95% sponges, with a mix of other small invertebrates like jellyfish, sea anemones, and crustaceans.

9. They are excellent swimmers.

swimming turtle in blue waters
Photo by David Troeger on Unsplash

These marine turtles are masters of the sea, able to swim at impressive speeds thanks to their physical adaptations. For example, the Leatherback Turtles can swim up to 22 miles per hour. With such speed, they can look for food, mates, and nesting sites or escape from lurking predators.

Their long, muscular front flippers push them through the water incredibly efficiently. Meanwhile, their smaller rear flippers act like rudders, helping them steer and maintain balance underwater. Moreover, their sleek shells cut underwater drag, allowing them to slice through the water effortlessly. 

10. They travel incredible distances while migrating.

As tenacious navigators, sea turtles cover thousands of miles between their feeding and nesting grounds, demonstrating their remarkable endurance and stamina. For example, Loggerhead Sea Turtles and Green Turtles travel over 1,400 miles of ocean.

Curiously, sea turtles rely on the Earth's magnetic field as an internal compass, guiding them along their migratory routes. Even across vast ocean expanses, their inner compass ensures they always find their natal beaches to nest2.

As the most wide-ranging sea turtle, the Leatherback travels over 10,000 miles between nesting and feeding sites. Their impressive journey takes them across the cold waters of the North Atlantic to the warm tropical beaches where they nest.

Witnessing a sea turtle lay eggs could be one of the most magical moments a person could have. So, read the following sea turtle facts to glimpse what it takes for this event to happen.

11. They return to their birthplace to lay eggs.

female marine turtle laying eggs
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Female turtles return to the same beach where they were born to lay eggs, a phenomenon known as natal homing that involves a globe-spanning journey. This incredible journey can span thousands of miles across challenging ocean currents, where their instincts drive turtles to find the perfect nesting spots. 

When she arrives, the female sea turtle scouts for a suitable location above the high-tide line. After selecting a prime spot, a female sea turtle uses her powerful flippers to dig deep holes in the sand. 

Then, females lay dozens or even hundreds of sea turtle eggs before covering the nest with sand and returning to the ocean. Interestingly, the hatchlings are left to fend for themselves until they enter the water.

Most sea turtles nest under darkness to avoid predators and disturbances. However, only Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles lay eggs during daylight hours. This species' specific environmental preferences and unique biological traits might contribute to its nesting habits. 

13. Only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings live to adulthood.

baby sea turtle on white sand
Photo by jcob nasyr on Unsplash

When the baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs, they leave the safety of their nests to venture into the vast ocean. This daunting voyage is their first actual test of survival. It begins as the sea turtle hatchlings use their temporary egg tooth, or caruncle, to break free from their shells. 

Emerging onto the sand, they must avoid predators, overcome obstacles, and navigate the water under darkness. At night, temperatures are colder, and most predators are inactive, increasing the chances of hatchling survival. 

Regrettably, artificial lights from beachfront properties can disorient baby turtles, often leading them astray and exposing them to more danger1. With the odds stacked against them, only one in 1,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood. Crabs, birds, raccoons, and fish await to snatch these vulnerable creatures as they scuttle across the sand or swim through shallow waters.

14. All seven species are in danger.

Why are sea turtles endangered? Aside from the previously mentioned in previous sea turtle facts, they also face challenges such as marine debris and entanglement in fishing gear. They also ingest plastic which often leads to debilitating injuries or death. Moreover, the illegal trade of sea turtle products further jeopardizes these marine species.

Ranging from threatened to critically endangered, all sea turtle species demand urgent conservation efforts. Fortunately, various organizations tirelessly address these threats. From supporting organizations such as Sea Turtle Conservancy to implementing sustainable fishing, the preservation of sea turtle populations is in our hands.

Share your favorite sea turtle fact and spread your love for these marine creatures!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with S.

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1

Price, J. T., Drye, B., Domangue, R. J., & Paladino, F. V. (2018). Exploring the role of artificial lighting in loggerhead turtle (caretta caretta) nest-site selection and hatchling disorientation. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 13(2), 415–422.

2

Lohmann, K. J., & Lohmann, C. M. F. (2019). There and back again: natal homing by magnetic navigation in sea turtles and salmon. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(Suppl_1).

3

Information about sea turtles. Sea Turtle Conservancy

4

Wyneken, J. (2001). The  anatomy of sea turtles.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by David Troeger on Unsplash
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