Loggerhead Sea Turtle Caretta caretta
The Loggerhead Turtle is a large-bodied sea turtle named for its broad, strong head. These turtles are generally predators and use their muscular heads and powerful jaws to crush the shells of Queen Conch, Caribbean Spiny Lobsters, and other hard-shelled invertebrates.
Loggerhead Turtles are slow growing, long lived animals that do not reach sexual maturity until they are 35 years old! Like all sea turtles, Loggerhead Turtles spend almost all of their time in the ocean, and females typically come to shore only to lay eggs. For that reason, from the time they hatch and enter the surf, males will never be out of the water again and are therefore more difficult to study than females. After mating, females come to shore a few times during the course of the nesting season, dig a burrow, and lay several eggs each time. Much of scientists’ knowledge of these turtles is a result of studying the females when they come ashore and hatchlings as they leave the beach. After several weeks, the baby Loggerhead Turtles hatch and enter the water together to begin their journey toward adulthood. Juvenile Loggerhead Turtles may spend as long as 7-12 years foraging in the open ocean (pelagic) environment. During this part of their lives, Loggerhead Turtles stay close to floating seaweeds and other objects and likely feed on crustaceans and other invertebrates that are also attracted to seaweed. Riding currents that circle entire ocean basins, it is possible that juvenile Loggerhead Turtles cross the ocean several times during this period. Scientists are only recently beginning to learn where these turtles go and what they do during these “lost years.” Throughout its lifetime, a Loggerhead Turtle may cross the ocean several times, traveling to and from preferred feeding or nesting sites. Like other marine turtles, Loggerhead Turtles return to the same beach where they hatched to nest, even if it is thousands of miles from their preferred feeding areas. The two largest remaining nesting areas (in terms of numbers of nesting females) for Loggerhead Turtles are the southeast coast of the United States and the coast of Oman.
The Loggerhead Turtle is an endangered species (it is highly vulnerable to extinction). Coastal development has reduced the area where they can successfully nest, dogs and other animals often destroy their nests, and historically, people harvested their eggs for food. Fortunately, some of their primary nesting sites are in countries with strict legal protections, but even in those places, threats to their nesting beaches persist. Legal measures often extend to turtle nests but rarely extend to the beaches themselves, so alteration of natural habitat continues to threaten this and other marine turtles. Hunting of adult Loggerhead Turtles for food also still occurs in some places. Individuals are either captured at sea or taken from their nesting beaches. Finally, the preferred habitats for adult Loggerhead Turtles overlaps with rich fishing grounds, and thousands of individuals are accidentally captured in fishing operations targeting other species. All of these threats have combined to drive Loggerhead Turtle populations to dangerously low levels. Naturally, only one or two of thousands of eggs will make it to adulthood. These added anthropogenic pressures on nesting beaches and juvenile and young adult turtles make the chance of survival even worse. In the United States, wide scale studies of Loggerhead Turtle nesting beaches indicate consistent declines in numbers of females that return each year, even with the strong protection measures in place there. These declines may reflect alterations to nesting beaches, threats to Loggerhead Turtles outside of U.S. waters, or a delayed response to decades of accidental capture by U.S. fishers – likely a combination of all three.
- Distribution worldwide in tropical to temperate latitudes
- Ecosystem/Habitat open ocean (pelagic) as juveniles; coastal soft bottom habitat as adults
- Feeding Habits foraging predator
- Conservation Status endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction)
- Taxonomy Order Chelonii (turtles and tortoises), Family Cheloniidae (hard shelled sea turtles)