6 Surprising Facts About Sea Turtles

Celebrate World Sea Turtle Day with six surprising facts about sea turtles!

  1. Sea turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass. This adaptation helps them return to the exact spot where they were born to lay eggs after spending years migrating thousands of miles at sea.

    sea turtle tracker

    Scientists study the movements of sea turtles using satellite tracking. Photo courtesy of USGS.

  2. They are one of the few animals that eat jellyfish. Leatherback turtles can consume twice their own body weight in jellies and other soft-bodied animals per day. They have sharp points on their jaws to pierce jellies and spines in their throat to prevent jellies from slipping out before they can swallow them! Plastic pollution in the ocean is especially dangerous for leatherback turtles, who often confuse plastic bags for their favorite food. 

  3. Sea turtles survived the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. 65 million years ago, an asteroid crashed into Earth, changing the planet’s climate and wiping out most life on Earth. Sea turtles, however, have many adaptations that helped them survive what other species couldn’t. They have a slow metabolism, requiring very little energy, so they can get by when resources are scarce. They can hibernate when it’s too cold, or burrow into the sand when it’s too hot. Turtles are tough­—it’s no wonder they’ve been around for over 120 million years!

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    Sea turtles have lived on Earth for over 120 million years!

  4. Only one in a thousand turtle hatchlings will make it to adulthood. It’s a treacherous journey from the nest to the water—birds, dogs, racoons and fish all prey on turtle hatchlings, and human disturbances make the voyage even more dangerous. Baby turtles use the natural light horizon over the ocean to find the water, and unnatural light from buildings, cars, and fires leads turtles in the wrong direction.

    turtle-hatchling

    It’s hard out there for a sea turtle hatchling.

  5. Temperature determines the sex of baby turtles. The sex of turtle hatchlings depends on the temperature of the environment surrounding the eggs. More female hatchlings are born in warmer temperatures, while males are born in cooler temperatures. Sand that is too hot can even prevent the eggs from hatching at all. Increased sand temperatures due to climate change will affect sea turtle populations by changing natural sex ratios and decreasing hatch rates.

    Leatherback_Turtle_eggs_hatching_at_Eagle_Beach,_Aruba

    Temperature determines the sex of baby turtles. Photo by Elise Peterson.

  6. Sea turtles need our help. Six out of the seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered thanks to entanglement in fishing gear, pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and demand for their eggs, meat and shells. Here are some easy ways to help sea turtles:

The sea turtles will thank you!

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A sea turtle escapes a net equipped with a turtle exclusion device (TED). Photo courtesy of NOAA.

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