Sea Turtles in New
Sea turtles do not breed in New England. Your only hope
of seeing one is at sea on a pelagic trip and even then your chances are very slim because at sea the turtles spend
95% of the time underwater only coming to the surface to
breath every 20 minutes or so. Usual
dives last 15-20 minutes but adults can stay submerged for much
longer times. On the surface they are most likely to
take a few breaths and then submerge again. Sea turtles are ship avoiders and not
attracted to chum.
There are sea turtles in the North Atlantic
and diligent watching may bring you exception luck. The
species you are most likely to
encounter in New England are the Leatherback,and
Loggerhead Sea Turtles. Kemp's Ridley and Green
Sea Turtles are regularly rescued on Cape Cod in the winter in
Cape Cod Bay. Recently a small Green Sea Turtle was spotted
on an offshore pelagic trip.
Sea Turtles are a good
reason to stay on deck and keep watching on an offshore
pelagic even when the sea appears to be empty.
Recent Reports of Sea Turtles
on New England Pelagics
July 16, 2011
Loggerhead Turtle on BBC Continental Shelf Edge
pelagic . Close to boat. Helen H boat.
June , 2010
Green Sea Turtle swims close to the boat and
then is attacked by a shark which takes a bite out
of the carapace. Turtle survives. Incident occured
on the BBC Continental Shelf Edge Pelagic.
Turtle spotted by Granite State Whale Watch
off the coast of NH.
close to the boat on the BBC Extreme Canyons trip.
August 20, 2007
BBC Extreme Pelagic -
Leatherback (2): One carcass floating over N.
Nantucket Shoals, one very much alive providing
excellent views right beside the boat over Hydrographer
Canyon. ... Photographs available
August 2001 Hydrographers Canyon Trip
The only sea turtle report I have seen on a New
England trips was a
Leatherback seen on the August 2001 trip to Hydrographer's Canyon.
I recall seeing the ridged back and head of the
turtle for a few second before it disappeared. EBT
August 2005 Canyon Trip
Rick Heil reported "Several likely
Sea Turtles, and nice looks at three or more
massive (1200 lb. ?) and truly awesome
Characteristics of Sea Turtles
Sea Turtles are Reptiles
that feed in all the world's oceans except the Arctic and
Antarctic. Individuals may live 80 years. Sea Turtle eggs
like all Reptiles must be laid and hatched on land. Once
hatched they spend their entire lives at sea coming to land
only to breed. (In the Hawaiian Islands, the Green Sea
Turtle comes to the beach to bask in the sun.) They
breath air and have very efficient lungs that can take in
Sea Turtles do not
reach maturity until they are 10-30 years old. They
breed in tropical or subtropical waters. Copulation
takes place at sea usually near the natal beach.
Females come ashore to lay their eggs in holes they dig in
the sand. Females may make up to 8 nests in a breeding
season, but they only breed every 2-4 years. They are
very vulnerable when they are on the beach and some breeding
beaches have been destroyed by human and animal predation
and more importantly beach development.
The eggs hatch after
about two months of incubation in the warm sand and the
hatchling head directly to the sea. On the way they
are subject to predation by Gulls and other animals.
Less than 1% of the hatchlings survive. The survivors
drift with the currents some species spend several years
drifting with the Sargassum Weed (floating seaweed).
Sea Turtles have salt
excreting glands in the corner of their eyes which allows
them to excrete salt taken in with food.
Sea Turtles are highly
Taxonomy of Sea Turtles
There are 7
species of Sea Turtles at the present time.
The Flatback Turtle is found only near Australia.
All seven species are believed to be descendent of a single
freshwater turtles that entered the sea.
Leatherback sea turtles differ from other turtles in
having a thick rubbery skin rather than a hard shell.. There
are 7 longitudinal ridges which give the turtles a distinct
look. A large Leatherback is said to look like an overturned
boat. The back is black with white spots.
||Leatherback Turtle photographed on the August
19,2007 pelagic by
Length: 52-70 "
Mass 550 - 2000 lbs.
The Leatherback is known to be a deep diver
with recorded dives of 2,417 feet and 3,248 feet. They
migrate long distances and one tagged specimen from the
Indian Ocean was later recaptured in the Atlantic.
Another ventured north to Alaska and ended up in the Cordova
Museum. They can swim at a speed of 22 mph.
They feed in all oceans
except the Antarctic and Arctic, primarily on jellyfish . The Grand Banks and
Georges Banks are major feeding areas because of the
high jellyfish population. Known to feed almost
exclusively on the
Lion's Mane Jellyfish in the water off eastern Canada in
Leatherbacks from the Caribbean migrate
north in spring to Cabot Strait between Cape Breton Island
and Newfoundland to feed on an abundance of jellyfish.
Seeing a turtle here can be hard as described by Carl Safina
in his new book Voyage of the Turtle.
2006 Safina, Carl Voyage of the
Turtle: In pursuit of the Earth's last dinosaur
ISBN-13:978-0-8050-7891-6 Henry Holt and Company NY
Loggerheads nest in Florida where they are under extreme
pressure from beach development. Some nesting further north
to the Carolinas and even Virginia. Young Loggerhead Turtles swim from the
natal beach and join the rafts of Sargassum weed that
circulate in the North Atlantic gyre. Adults may be found
feeding in the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil to Canada.
Few are seen on the European side.
Loggerheads have a dull reddish brown shell.
They forage on the open ocean near seaweed drift lines and
near shore on crabs, mollusks, and other small
Length: 34- 49 inches
Mass: 176 - 440 pounds
Turtle photographed by
James Smith on July 2007 Shelf edge Pelagic
Loggerhead Turtle photographed by Steve
Mirick on the BBC July 21 Extreme Shelf Edge Pelagic
and used with his permission. This turtle was
unusually cooperative and swam close to the boat, under the
boat and close to the other side. Not a good sign.
Turtles should avoid boats.
||Luke Sietz photograph of
Loggerhead Turtle on July 16, 2011 BBC Pelagic.
Green Sea Turtle
The Green Sea Turtle is
found in three oceans: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Ocean in
tropical and subtropical waters. They are regularly seen
from Virginia to Texas and in the Virgin Islands and Puerto
Rico. They are known to feed as far north as Cape Cod.
In the Atlantic, the Green Sea Turtle nests in Florida,
Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Tortuguero on the Carribean
coast of Costa Rica, Isla Tridnaade off Brazil.
At Midway Atoll and on other Hawaiian Islands, the Green
Turtle is known to bask on the beach.
Sea Turtle feeds on seagrasses and algae giving a green
color to the fat and muscles and from this it gets its name.
It is used to make the once popular green turtle soup
favored by many. Turtle soup was said
to be a favorite of Winston Churchill. I remember
seeing turtle soup on the shelves of supermarkets in the
United States. Its popularity has of course led to its
demise as a species.
Seeing a Green Sea Turtle
in New England waters is even harder than seeing the
Loggerhead or Leatherback. You should always be ready for a
surprise on the off shore pelagic trips to the Continental
Shelf Edge and on the June 2010 trip, a small Green Sea
Turtle swam very near the boat giving the birders a close
view of the wonderful sunrise markings on the shell.
Then this turtle was attack by a shark which took a bite out
of the shell. The turtle seemed to survive and again
swam close to the boat. Of course our photographers
got great pictures. This turtle was the size of a
large pizza or maybe a little larger since the ocean makes
everything look smaller. I was most impressed by the
beautiful red and yellow sunrise markings on the shell.
Behavior of this individual was a bit odd since it came
close to the boat and stayed near the surface for a long
time. This behavior may have led to or have been
influenced by the shark.
Green Sea Turtle photographed by
Jeff Slovin on the 2010 June BBC pelagic. At
left before the shark bite and above after.
Did the poor guy lose part of the tail?
Status of Sea Turtles
Sea Turtle populations have crashed due to pressures on
the nesting beaches from people, dogs, beach development.
and fishing nets at sea.
Attempts to protect the turtles on the Atlantic beaches have
resulted in some succeess recently.
Shrimp fishing kills many sea turtles
because the turtles drown in the nets. U.S. fishermen
have been persuaded to use turtle excluders on their nets
which reduces the kill. Most shrimp served in the
United States comes from other countries where these nets
are not used. The only place I order shrimp is in
south Texas because thanks to the Sea Turtle rescue effort
all Texas shrimp is caught by turtle safe boats.
Is your shrimp
caught by US boats?
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has already killed many sea
Sea Turtle Rescue on South Padre Island
On your next birding trip to the Rio Grande
Valley, stop at the Sea Turtle Inc. rescue station on
South Padre Island. You will see it on the left just
before you reach the Convention Center. Check out
their web page
Sea Turtle Rescue on Cape Cod and in New England²
Wellfleet, Mass.- On
Sunday, November 11,
two Kemp's ridley
and one green sea
turtle were rescued
from beaches in West
Brewster and Dennis.
Citizens spotted the
turtles and notified
and a rescue team
was dispatched to
the scene. All three
turtles were found
alive and after
stabilizing them at
Wellfleet Bay, a
transported them to
the New England
Center in Boston.
All are alive and
expected to survive,
according to Mass
"We usually begin
to find the sea
Murley. "But the
waters delayed their
arrival this year."
According to Murley,
nor'easter caused a
shift in winds
followed by a cold
front and the water
to 50 degrees. The
turtles, who are
migrating south for
the cooler waters.
now in the high 40s,
continue to wash
northerly winds of
20 to 30 miles per
hour through two
tides, which kept
the turtles in the
bay, rather than
pushing them out to
sea, according to
Murley. Both species
of turtles are on
the United States
turtle strandings in
Cape Cod Bay? One
factor may be the
between the inshore
waters off of
the offshore waters
east of Cape Cod.
The turtles follow
the warm water into
the bay in search of
food, but when the
turtles, and the
harsh winter winds
blow the turtles
toward the shore,
where they are
stranded and are too
cold to move.
"The turtles we
find have extremely
cold internal body
Prescott, "and they
should be in the
Gulf of Mexico where
around 90 degrees."
Once a turtle is
and his staff act
quickly to remove it
from the beach, and
to raise its
have lost important
nutrients while in
the cold water, and
a quick change in
shock their system.
Once back at
Wellfleet, the staff
works around the
turtles go to the
New England Aquarium
in Boston for
amazing when you
bring back a turtle
with a body
temperature of 30 to
40 degrees, and it
starts eating and
Prescott. With the
turtle survival rate
between 50 and 60
percent, there have
A dedicated group
of more than 100
Wellfleet Bay staff
combs Cape Cod
beaches on the
lookout for stranded
turtles. The most
common turtle found
is the Atlantic
ridley (aka Kemp's ridley), partly
loggerhead is also
larger size usually
insulates them from
the cold. The green
sea turtle is a more
this time of year,
the survival rate is
usually quite high
for sea turtles that
wash ashore because
the air temperature
is still fairly
warm," says Murley.
"It was terrific
that the citizens
who found the
turtles called Mass
Audubon's Sea Turtle
Rescue Hot Line so
we could quickly get
The turtles are
expected to have a
full recovery. With
expected later this
week, more turtles
may be arriving.
Mass Audubon is
to help with sea
turtle rescues. If
If a sea turtle
turtle above the
high tide line,
DO NOT PUT IT
BACK INTO THE
WATER or REMOVE
IT FROM THE
with seaweed or
eelgrass so it
is no longer
exposed to cold
spot with a
piece of beach
Turtle Hot Line
ext. 104 and
location as well
rescue crew will
Page author Emmalee Tarry
1 Reference for this
page: Sea Turtles: A complete Guide to their Biology,
Behavior, and Conservation. by James R. Spotila John
Hopkins University Press 2004
2 I have
lost the reference for this material. The information
is critical to this page.
3. Wikipedia Sea turtles