Our ocean traveler may spend around 10 or more years in the deep blue. These years are referred to as the ‘lost years’ being from when the hatchling enters the water until it returns to the same beach to breed.
Our turtle stands to live as long as 50 to 80 years or even more with scientists guessing a century might not be impossible, but lets look a little deeper into its time on this planet and the risks it faces.
Firstly our little turtle will start life underground having broken out of its egg using a special ‘tooth’ called a caruncle. This would be 5 to 6 weeks after the eggs being laid (around 50 to 200) and meticulously covered by the mother. The babies would be predominantly male or female depending on the temperature, as is the case with crocodiles, also a reptile. Once the surface is reached it becomes a race to get into the water with everything imaginable trying to eat them, from gulls, to crabs to fish in the water, to hawks etc. What a welcome into the world!
As if that’s not enough – they head for the natural light and white waves when the hatch. If the areas developed they often head the wrong way, aiming towards human development lights.
How many make it to adulthood?
Estimates very from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10000.
The turtles use their feet to swim and unlike their land based relatives, the tortoise they have streamlined shells for swimming. tortoises generally have much rounder shells which helps them get back onto their feet. Turtles being in the water most of their lives don’t need this adaptation. Another difference is with the leatherback is that they have a softer shell than their land terrestrial and other sea relatives. Lastly, Most sea turtles cannot retract their arms and heads into the shell.
So the big puzzle is what happens in the 10 to 12 years that our juvenile turtles spend in the deep blue sea…
Well, even in this day and age with loads of technology we still don’t know exactly. We do know that they travel vast distances on the ocean currents, drifting on the surface or spending long times in massive seaweed beds. The advantage of heading so far out to sea and getting away from the continental shelf is most likely that they avoid most predators such as sharks and birds.
One of the studies undertaken found a baby turtle had traveled 700 miles (1100 km) in 11 days !
So what do they eat out there?
Their diet is also dependent on their specie, with leatherbacks eating mostly jellyfish (and sadly, plastic bags that look like jellies) and hawksbills eating predominantly sponges. Others eat a combination of plants and animals. The differences are depicted in the shape and size of the mouths.
Sea turtles cannot breathe underwater but they can hold their breath for an impressive 4 to 7 hours!
They can also drink sea water -this is because they have a gland that allows them to excrete excess salt thereby maintaining the salt balance in their bodies.