Can You Keep A Sea Turtle As A Pet?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Sea turtles are majestic creatures. Seriously, the more I watch them, the more fascinated I am by their mysterious nature. I am sure you are also amazed at these marine turtles and long for petting one. But wait. Can you keep a sea turtle as a pet?

You definitely can not keep a sea turtle as a pet. Of course, this is an endangered species, and petting would create an imbalance in biodiversity. Also, raising these marine turtles at home is almost impossible as you can never replicate the sea environment.

Well, do not lose hope. Still, you can adopt a sea turtle. I am not lying or provoking you to do something illegal. Do you want to know how? Read this article to the end and get your answer.

Can You Keep A Sea Turtle As A Pet?

Sea turtles are anything but not pets. I guess the endangered tag, and their unique habitat requirements are to blame here. But is there any way you can own a sea turtle?

Well, I will get into everything you have on your mind. But first, let’s see what parameters are stopping you from petting a sea turtle,

You can not hold a sea turtle in your possession or make a trade of the turtle because it is totally illegal.

Marine turtles have 7 subspecies, and most of them are on the endangered species list in the USA. According to the American Endangered Species Act (ESA), the endangered sea turtles are,

  • Hawksbill sea turtle
  • Green sea turtle
  • Leatherback sea turtle
  • Kemp’s Ridleys sea turtle

The act has identified Loggerhead sea turtles as a threatened subspecies. The rest of the marine turtles are also in a vulnerable state.

So, the government has come forward and banned the sea turtle trade or possession for increasing their survival outlook. It is not just a state or country act. Governments of several countries have signed the law to save this species.

What happens if the government finds a sea turtle in your backyard? They have the right to charge you more than $20,000 and throw you into prison for 6 months. Trading or owning sea turtles is a complete violation of federal law.

Here is what the penalty structure of capturing or petting a sea turtle looks like,

A. Violation History Penalty Amount For Taking Sea Turtles

ViolationFirstSecondThirds
Wound/ Injure/ Hunt/ Capture$2,000 – Statutory Maximum$4,500 – Statutory Maximum$10,000 – Statutory Maximum

B. Violation History Penalty Amount For Transportation and Transaction Of Sea Turtles

ViolationFirstSecondThirds
Import/ Export$500 – $4,000$2,000 – $15,000$7,500 – Statutory Maximum
Possess, Deliver, Carry, Transport, Sell or ship illegally taken threatened or endangered species in interstate or foreign commerce$3,500 – Statutory Maximum  $7,500 – Statutory Maximum  $13,500 – Statutory Maximum  
Deliver, Receive, Carry, Transport, Sell or ship threatened or endangered species in interstate or foreign commerce$500 – $3,000$1,500 – $10,500$5,500 – Statutory Maximum  

But unfortunately, sea turtle trafficking and poaching are still a thing. Many greedy men hunt down the sea turtle eggs in the spring or trade the shell because of extra profit.

Here is one fun fact. According to state law, if you find an injured sea turtle, you can take it into your possession to provide primary treatments. Once the turtle recovers, you have to release it to the sea.

2. Critical Habitat Requirement

You can not just kidnap a sea turtle and put it into your home pond. No. The creature will not survive long. The species has unique habitat requirements which are hard to replicate in your home.

I personally believe space and water parameters are the main obstacles to why sea turtles can not adapt elsewhere. Here is a detailed discussion,

Endless Space

Do you know how big sea turtles grow? The species has faster growth than any other turtle on the earth. Even the smallest sea turtle subspecies, the Kemp’s Ridley’s turtles, have a carapace length of about 20 to 29 inches.

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Take a quick look at the growth of sea turtles from the chart below,

Sea Turtle SubspeciesSize
Leatherback Sea Turtle4 to 6.5 feet
Flatback Sea Turtle2.4 to 3.25 feet
Green Sea Turtle3 to 5 feet
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle2 to 2.5 feet
Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle1.7 to 2.4 feet
Loggerhead Sea Turtle2.5 to 3.6 feet
Hawksbill Sea turtle2 to 3.8 feet

See, the sea turtles have an average growth of 2.5 to 4 feet. Can you imagine how big an enclosure you would require to house just one marine turtle?

A 40-gallon tank is just the starter, and maybe a hatchling can comfortably move there. But not for long. These turtles grow up in an endless open ocean, and drawing a boundary will only affect their health.

Again, sea turtles are born explorers. These creatures dive deep into the ocean and come to the surface, considering it their adventure sport.

Don’t worry. Sea turtles can hold their breath for 4 to 7 hours at a stretch. Give this article a read to know more about the breathing mechanism of a sea turtle.

So my point is you can neither provide the marine turtles with a spacious nor deep enclosure. Even if you can house a baby sea turtle for a few days or a week in your home aquarium, you will need a spacious habitat in a few months.

Water Condition

Ocean water is salty and contains all necessary minerals for a sea turtle. These turtles typically spend most of their time swimming inside water. They come to the surface from time to time, replenish their lungs, and dive back to the ocean. Also, marine turtles do not come to the shore unless necessary.

So, the sea turtles are always in a salty environment. The humidity and water pressure in the middle of the sea are different from the land. No matter how generously you decorate an enclosure, the marine turtles can never adapt to it.


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3. Where Is The Food?

What if you manage to bring one sea turtle home and you have a luxurious pool for its accommodation? I am sorry, but you still can not keep the creature alive for long. Do you think sea turtles can survive on the veggies? So, what do marine turtles actually eat?

Sea turtles have different food options, including seagrass, seaweeds, jellyfish, snail, algae, etc. The diet of these turtles might change with their growing age.

Here is the desired meal appeal of sea turtles,

Sea Turtle SpeciesFood Habit
Green Sea TurtleZooplankton
Seaweed
Seagrass
Algae
Sponges
Shrimp
Worms
Crab
Insects
Snails
Mollusks
Jellyfish
Crustaceans
Leatherback Sea TurtleJellyfish
Crustaceans
Siphonophores
Tunicates
Pyrosomes
Squid
Salps
Sea squirts
Urchins
Loggerhead Sea TurtleAlgae
Crustaceans
Conchs
Fishes
Seagrass
Sargassum
Seagrass
Snail
Mussels
Mollusk
Crabs
Lobsters
Whelks
Horseshoe
Hawksbill Sea TurtleAlgae
Barnacles
Crabs
Crustaceans
Fish eggs
Jellyfish
Macroplankton
Mollusk
Squid
Shrimp
Sea stars
Sea cucumber
Sea urchins
Sea squirts 
Small fish
Tunicates
Olive Ridley Sea TurtleCrabs
Jellyfish
Mollusk
Rock lobsters
Tunicates
Seaweed
Sea squirt
Shrimp
Urchins
Kemp’s Ridley Sea TurtleCrabs
Fishes
Jellyfishes
Mollusks
Shrimps
Flat Back Sea TurtleCrab
Corals
Fish
Jellyfish
Mollusks
Seaweed
Sea cucumbers
Soft corals
Shrimp
Squid

The sea turtles have their own pace to switch from one food phase to another. In most cases, they stay omnivorous until they hit adulthood. You can never satisfy their food needs in an enclosed environment.

Can You Keep A Baby Sea Turtle As A Pet?

You can not keep either an adult or a baby sea turtle as a pet. The species is still endangered, and hatchlings are more vulnerable. They require the ocean environment to flourish in life and can not grow in the aquarium.

A gravid sea turtle can lay more than 100 eggs each nesting season. So, what would go wrong if you took one baby?

See, not all the eggs from a clutch make it alive out of the nest. The inside temperature and the risks of a predatory attack are responsible for such conditions. Again, even if a hatchling manages to hit the sea, there is no guarantee it will survive.

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According to a report, 1 out of 1000 eggs can make it to adulthood. You can not decrease the chance of the survival of these little buddies by taking one in possession. Right?

Can You Buy A Sea Turtle As A Pet?

You can not buy or sell sea turtles as trading is illegal. The species is endangered, and their population is decreasing alarmingly. If these turtles keep disappearing at this rate, the ocean biodiversity will go through a negative phase.

Sea turtles are popular in the black market, not only because of their pet qualities. Many restaurants worldwide serve marine turtle eggs and meat recipes as their main attraction. But of course, they do it in secret.

Sea turtle poaching is one of the major reasons the species is at the edge of extinction.

No wonder why the Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora has banned the trade of sea turtles or any part of these creatures. The purpose of the act is to decrease the survival threat of this species.

According to the act, the trade of sea turtles and any part is a law violation. The accused person has to pay a fine of $20,000 or more.

Is It Illegal To Have A Sea Turtle As A Pet?

It is definitely illegal and a federal offense to have a sea turtle as a pet. The state authority can charge you up to $20000 or send you to prison for 6 months if you have a marine turtle in your possession. However, sheltering a sea turtle to heal its wound for a few days is not illegal.

Sea turtles are all fascinating and mysterious. I get your urge to keep it as a pet. But unfortunately, you might not manage enough resources to provide the creatures a comfortable life.

However, do you know the main reason why the state does not allow pet marine turtles? Well, it is because the species is endangered.

The sea turtles have a low survival rate. According to the statistics, 1 out of 1000 hatchlings makes it to adulthood. Moreover, seawater pollution and habitat destruction has impacted the species population. Not to mention how the poaching and trafficking of these turtles also affect their numbers.

See, it has been challenging for the sea turtles to fight for their survival. If the authority makes petting marine turtles legal, the species will cease to extinction in no time.

But hey! You still might get a chance to take care of a sea turtle.

As per the law, if someone finds an injured sea turtle, he can keep the creature until it recovers. However, the possession is temporary, and he must reach out to the experts for proper guidance.

 Can You Touch A Sea turtle?

You can not touch a sea turtle. The concerned authority has imposed restrictions on touching, feeding, or performing any kind of activity that might disturb this marine species.

A video of a sea turtle returning to the water from the shore went viral a few years back. The people were cheering the creature, throwing water at it, and encouraging the big buddy by screaming.

Well, those beach people thought they were helping the turtle. But sadly, they were doing nothing but irritating the creature. The turtle could go back to the sea even without their help.

Sea turtles come to the shore only when they are in need. These turtles try to avoid humans as much as they can. But whenever we spot a marine turtle, we go near it, touch the shell, pat its skin or click a photo. These acts scare these animals and impact their mental health.

Touching a sea turtle can affect its growth, mess up its lifecycle, and make the creature vulnerable to diseases. Hence, authorities of different states have banned touching or feeding sea turtles. Also, if the guards find anyone injuring, harming, or killing the marine turtles, she will definitely get punished.

Imagine strolling on the roads, and some random person touches you. What? You will hate it. Right? So, why not spare a little space for the marine turtles too and make them feel safe around us?

Can You Raise A Sea turtle?

Technically, you can not raise a sea turtle. Firstly, it is because petting the species is illegal and secondly, managing the requirements of the creature is nearly impossible.

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Sea turtles need a spacious and deep enclosure to swim. Your pond or pool is nowhere near an open sea. Not to mention the obstacle to replicating the sea environment in captivity.

Moreover, marine turtles live on seaweeds, seagrass, crabs, mollusks, etc. You can not collect their diet regularly.

Do you know sea turtles go through interesting phase transformations throughout their life? They start their journey from the shore and prepare themselves for the open sea. Soon they swim towards the deep ocean or islands where they live up to a stage.

These turtles migrate from one place to another to mate or lay eggs. You can never provide this life in captivity. 

Get more detail on the life cycle of a sea turtle from this article.

Why Are Sea Turtles Endangered?

I have mentioned many times that sea turtles are endangered. But what makes the species so vulnerable? Well, there are many reasons behind their survival threat, and I am sharing some,

Sea Water Pollution:

We humans dump all our waste in the sea. This non-biodegradable trash, especially plastic, affects the life of marine turtles. They eat plastic thinking it edible, choke on the chunks, or get trapped in the waste nets. In severe conditions, the turtles might end up having a miserable death.

Turtle Poaching:

There is a demand for sea turtle eggs, shells, meat, eyes, and other parts. You can call it a superstitious or cultural belief. Many people pay a bundle of money to get a hold of a marine turtle.

In the 1700s, only the aristocrats could afford to eat sea turtle recipes, and in many villages, they used to cook meat as a part of the tradition. The Chinese used to run a jewelry business of the sea turtle shell and bones. In many cultures, shell or bone powders have healing properties.

Unfortunately, the beliefs are still there. Even though there is a ban on sea turtle trafficking, the black market still trades the meat, shell, or bone. Also, people often dig up the turtle nest, collect the eggs, and eat them.

Turtle poaching is another reason why marine turtles are going out of number.

Climate Change:

The world is losing its balance, and we, humans, are again responsible for it. The earth and sea temperature are getting unpredictable day by day. Sadly, marine turtles and other creatures are suffering because of our mistakes.

The rise in the ocean level or the hot temperature ruins the suitable habitat environment of the sea turtles. Also, a change in the temperature affects the sex ratio in the turtle nest. All these things lead to a disturbance in the sea turtle population and diversity.

Can You Own A Sea Otter?

Most states of the USA do not allow petting a sea otter. However, many regions, including Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska, etc., permit the resident to own a sea otter by following proper guidelines.

Sea otters are cute and friendly. In the wild, the creature lives in a group of 15. With the proper procedure, you might get a sea otter as a pet. But do you think you should go for the chance?

Captured or pet otters do not get a chance to live a natural life. Your bathtub or pool is not a suitable living arrangement for the creatures. Not only that, the otters are social and like to communicate. A solitary life might make them sad.

Moreover, rising sea otters have many other challenges. They can be loud and destructive while angry. As sea otters are not housetrained, it is tough to pet them.

You will not find a local pet store selling sea otters. You have to have connections in the black market to the exotic pet breeders or collectors.

Can You Rescue And Adopt A Sea Turtle?

Surprisingly, you can rescue and adopt a sea turtle. Well, adoption is not in the literal meaning.

Marine turtles often get injured while on the shore or in the ocean. They might come to the beach in a vulnerable state, and that is when the creatures need your support.

If you find an injured turtle, take the pet to your home and make necessary arrangements to treat it. In case you know nothing about the species, call a marine turtle rescuing organization and ask for their help.

You might have to move the turtle from the beach to your home or the rescue center. Be careful of touching or lifting the turtle. Sea turtles are bulky and weigh a lot. You may need a hand to handle the creature.

You will need a box to accommodate the sea turtle. Make tiny holes in the container for air passage. Not only that, you will need wet towels to keep the shell and skin moist as sea turtles can not stay long in the land.

Sea turtles can carry bacteria on their skin or shell. So, you have to wash your hands afterward.

Let’s move to the adopting part. The sea turtle research and rescue organizations offer an adoption opportunity. Under this program, you pay them to hatch a sea turtle clutch and increase their survival possibility. The organization releases the babies once they come out.

What is there in return for you? Well, you will get turtle accessories, an ownership certificate, and many more gifts. Not to mention your contribution to balancing the diversity and saving the species. In many programs, the organization sets a tracker on the turtle and allows you to observe the creature’s movements for a limited period.

Many wildlife and marine organizations require sea turtles for their research and studies. They have to apply to the concerned authorities in a request for turtle possession. Without the state license, no one can keep a sea turtle.

Conclusion

You can not keep sea turtles as a pet, as it is illegal. But you can always help the species to stay in balance. Spread awareness about the significance of these creatures and try to contribute to their survival if you can.

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