Habitat – surface of open ocean, bottom of estuaries and bays
Niche – carnivore
Favorite Food – crabs
Length – up to 3.5 feet
Weight – up to 800 pounds
Status – Endangered
Threats – fishing nets, poaching, beach development, light pollution
Swimming gracefully through the water, the loggerhead turtle is a beauty of the oceans. They are similar in appearance, but smaller than the herbivorous green turtle by about a foot in length. Powered through the water by their long front flippers, they live in tropical and temperate seas worldwide where they feed on a variety of crustaceans and fish.
The loggerhead is so named because its head is huge in proportion to its body compared to other sea turtles. It needs such a large noggin to accommodate its powerful, shell-crushing jaws. The turtles use their jaws to break through the protective exoskeletons of crabs and lobsters, their favorite food. Strong swimmers, they are able to dart after prey in quick bursts of speed in their hunting grounds on the bottom of estuaries and bays. In the open ocean, they prefer to float near the surface of the water in search of food. Loggerheads can stay submerged for an amazing seven HOURS, a record for any marine vertebrate.
Like most other sea turtles, the loggerhead is endangered, driven to the brink of extinction by a number of man-made factors. The first is accidental. Loggerhead turtles are often caught in fishing nets that troll the bottom of the water. Many hundreds of turtles die every year from suffocation simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another threat facing loggerheads is beach development. Like all sea turtles, loggerheads must haul themselves onto the sand to lay their eggs, and development of beaches has reduced the availability of suitable nesting sites. In addition, the glare from nearby urban light pollution can confuse loggerhead hatchlings on their journey from egg to sea. Since the young are already prime targets for predators, fewer individuals reaching the water thanks to man-made causes has made the plight of the species even harder. Finally, poaching for their meat, shells, and eggs has continued to hamper conservation efforts even in the face of international protection.
As we enter a new decade, it’s unclear whether the loggerhead and other giant turtles of the oceans will survive to see another. Since they only breed once every two or more years, the reduction in adult turtles poses a grave threat to the species as a whole. Only strong conservation efforts and diligence will ensure that populations rebound before a point of no return.