What do we know about Loggerhead turtles?
- Author: Jeanette du Toit
- Thursday, 12 November 2015
- Marine Wildlife
What to do if you spot a stranded turtle
- Remove the turtle from the beach
- Keep it dry and at room temperature – DO NOT place the turtle in water
- Place the turtle in a container that has ample air holes
- Contact the Environmental Management Section of Overstrand Municipality on 028 316 372
- Make a note of exactly where the turtle was found.
- At the Two Oceans Aquarium the stranded turtles are rehabilitated until they are strong and healthy. They are then sent to uShaka Sea World in Durban where they are released into the warmer waters off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.
Related CategoryMarine Wildlife
LOGGERHEAD TURTLE – Caretta caretta is an oceanic turtle, belonging to the family Cheloniidae.
To see these magnificent creatures make their way up the beach, dig a hole with their flippers, lay their eggs, carefully cover up their nest, camouflage the site and return to the ocean is a rare and special experience, especially in view of the fact that the loggerhead is listed as vulnerable and the leatherback listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.
The loggerhead sea turtle is the world's largest hard-shelled turtle. Adults have an average weight range of 80 to 200 kg (180 to 440 lb) and a length range of 70 to 95 cm (28 to 37 in). The head of the loggerhead is large and square. The shell is dark to yellow-brown and tapers to the rear with a row of five large plates on either side of the central plates. The shell plates on the loggerhead turtle do not overlap. The most obvious difference being the adult males have thicker tails and shorter plastrons than the females. The loggerhead reaches sexual maturity within 17–33 years and has a lifespan of 47–67 years.
The breeding habits of the loggerhead are much the same as those of the leatherback. The females come ashore and lay up to 500 eggs at 15 day intervals. The juveniles then hatch after 60-70 days - Once ready to emerge, the hatchlings cut their way out of the egg with a special egg tooth on the end of their beaks. They will normally rest until nightfall when the temperature of the surface sand drops and then sprint down to the sea. The hatchlings are guided towards the water’s edge by the lighter sea horizon.
Once in the ocean, they go on a swimming frenzy in the Agulhas current that lasts for a few days. They are then swept down the east and south coasts of South Africa, most of them ending up in the Southern Indian Ocean where they spend at least three years drifting in the open sea.
During this phase the young sea turtles feed on bluebottles, jellyfish and storm snails that drift on the surface. Following the currents, they are eventually brought back to the coasts where they change their diets. Loggerheads feed on sea organisms that inhabit reefs, i.e. urchins, mussels and crabs.
Females reach nesting maturity between 12 and 20 years, when they return to the beaches where they were born to restart the life cycle. Like the leatherback turtle they nest on the beaches of Northern KwaZulu Natal from November to January. Protection of nesting females has been continuous for thirty seven years and has seen the number of nesting females increase from approximately 200 per season to over 500 in recent years.
Main threats are poaching of eggs during the nesting season and predation by monitor lizards, side striped jackal and ghost crabs. During migrations females are vulnerable to being caught in nets, both fixed and trawl. Current research is looking at the impact of Climate Change on the nest temperature and safety of these turtles. Rising sea level and temperature increase can have severe negative impact on these already endangered species.
Between April and June every year, juvenile loggerhead turtles wash up onto beaches in and around Cape Town. Loggerhead turtles are listed as endangered and are protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This year, due to rough seas and strong winds, the strandings have started even earlier. Two Oceans Aquarium has already received juvenile turtles from as far afield as Knysna and Struisbaai.
Sea turtles are temperate water animals and when they are washed up on Western Cape beaches they are often suffering from hypothermia, dehydration and possibly infection.
(information courtesy of Two Oceans Aquarium)
Research from various websites: Photos + Info