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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata

Named after its conspicuous beaked snout, the hawksbill sea turtle has a carapace with a raised, central keel and pointed shell plates (scutes) around its rear margin. It lives in warm-water regions, feeding on sponges, mollusks, and other sedentary animals, and rarely strays far from shallows and coral reefs.

The hawksbill sea turtle is less migratory than other marine turtles, breeding at low densities all over the tropics instead of gathering at certain beaches. On land, it has a distinctive gait, moving its flippers in diagonally opposite pairs—other marine turtles move their front flippers together—the same action they use when swimming.

The hawksbill turtle is the chief source of tortoiseshell—detached, polished scutes. Despite being classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, hawksbills are often killed and stuffed when young to be sold as curios, particularly in Southeast Asia. Attempts at farming hawksbill sea turtles have not been successful.

Threats to Hawksbill Sea Turtles

Hawksbill sea turtles are in danger of extinction and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Capturing and killing hawksbill sea turtles for their valuable shell, which is used to make hairclips, combs, jewelry, decorative art and even cowboy boots, is a major threat to the recovery of the species.

While the legal international trade of hawksbill shells ceased in 1994, Cuba has recently pushed to reopen the market. A number of countries still allow the killing of hawksbill sea turtles, including the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Although the killing of hawksbills and the poaching of their eggs is illegal in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, hawksbill products are still readily available for sale.

The killing of hawksbill sea turtles still occurs throughout the world for traditional, medicinal and subsistence level use. In the Pacific, intentional killing of sea turtles is a major issue in American Samoa, Guam, Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

What Oceana Does  to Protect Hawksbill Sea Turtles

Oceana's campaign to save sea turtles is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations in the world's oceans. The campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles.

Hawksbill Turtlezoom image
Hawksbill Sea Turtlezoom image
Hawksbill Sea Turtlezoom image
  • Order Chelonia
  • Length 2–3 ft (0.8–1 m)
  • Weight 100–165 lb (45–75 kg)
  • Habitat Coral reefs and coastal shallows
  • Distribution Tropical and warm-temperate waters worldwide
Hawksbill Turtle habitat mapzoom image