I can’t explain how excited I am to work with sea turtles. Actually, I can explain since that is, afterall, the whole point of this blog. But just to give you an idea of the level of excitement, it is to the point where finding words to describe it is difficult. But for blog-sake, I’ll manage to come up with something.
I have always thought of sea turtles as intriguing creatures — their biology interesting, they have unique individual personalities, and let’s face it, turtles just look cool. What bums me out though is that all sea turtles are endangered. One of the best ways to help protect an endangered species is to share information about it — and that’s my goal and guess what — by reading this blog you are doing part of your share helping as well. The more you know, the more you can help. The more you can help, the more sea turtles can stick around and thrive as a species. Not to mention, sea turtles have been around for a really long time. The earliest form of a sea turtle dates back to the late Jurassic period of 250 million years ago! And the current 7 species that live on earth right now have been around for about 120 million years — it would be an absolute shame to see them leave after all this time. And, just to give you an idea, our earliest human ancestor is believed to have lived about 1.8 million years ago. So the sea turtles species that we see in our oceans today have been around longer than us!
Of the 7 species of sea turtles, 5 frequent the waters off the Florida coasts and 3 of them nest on the beaches of Florida. On my very own beach at my house I have seen nests for Loggerhead sea turtles — pretty cool!
Let’s get to know the Loggerhead. The Loggerhead was named for its large head. They have a very powerful jaw used to crush crabs, mollusks and other crustaceans. Adults can weigh 200 – 350 pounds and measure about 3 feet in length. Loggerheads nest on Florida beaches from late April to September and we often have Loggerhead patients at the hospital.
The Green sea turtle is named for the greenish color of their body fat due to adult Greens being herbivores eating seagrasses and seaweed. They can weigh 300 – 400 pounds and grow about 3 – 4 feet long. Greens nest of Florida beaches from June through late September. This is another sea turtle that we often have at the hospital.
The Leatherback is the largest of all the sea turtles. They are named for their smooth, rubbery shell. Leatherbacks feed on jellyfish an can weigh 700 – 2,000 pounds and measure 4 – 8 feet in length. They nest on Florida beaches from March to August. Since they nest on Florida beaches, we are prone to get hatchlings and injured/sick adults into the hospital.
The Hawksbill sea turtle gets its name from its distinctive hawk-like beak. They primarily eat sea sponges and weigh between 95 – 165 and measuring on average 2.5 feet in length. Though Hawksbills do not nest on Florida beaches, they do frequent Florida waters and we will occasionally have a Hawksbill patient in the hospital. Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered. Critically endangered means that a species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.
The Kemp’s Ridley is the rarest of all the sea turtles. They eat blue crabs, clams, mussels, fish and jellyfish. The Kemp’s Ridley is also the smallest sea turtle weighing only 85 – 100 pounds and measuring 2 – 2.5 feet in length. Like the Hawksbill, the Kemp’s Ridley does not nest on Florida beaches but does frequent Florida waters. And again, like the Hawksbill, the Kemp’s Ridley is critically endangered.
The Olive Ridley is most commonly found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They are small turtles weighing up to 110 pounds and measuring 2 – 2.5 feet in length.
The Flatback turtle is most commonly found in the waters around Australia. Adults weigh up to 200 pounds and measure about 3 – 3.5 feet in length.
So, to sum it up, at the hospital we will get hatchlings of Loggerheads, Greens and occasionally Leatherbacks (though they do not do well in captivity as hatchlings, even for small amounts of time) that have issues making it from their nest to the surf. Additionally, we take in adults of the same three species as well as Hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley that appear to be sick or injured. At the sea turtle hospital, our goal is to help sick and injured turtles and get them back to their ocean home as healthy and as soon as possible. We do not keep them for any reasons other than to get them healthy and strong to promote their survival.
To do work at the sea turtle hospital you have to be well versed in sea turtle facts and knowing the 7 species is a good start. In the future I will be posting pictures of our turtle patients patients we receive and talk more about specific injuries and details of the different turtles we get as well as the work that goes into making them healthy again.