Sea turtles fight for their survival even from the day before they are born. Yes, these marine turtles are never free from the eyes of the predators and are always in a vulnerable state of getting attacked. But who are the threats to these sea turtles?
Raccoons, coyotes, feral dogs, foxes, armadillos, crabs, fire ants, birds, etc., take their turns in the sea turtle invasion while on land. In the water, killer whales, tiger sharks, and dolphins are the enemies of marine turtles. Unfortunately, humans and human activities also pose a threat to these turtles.
Why are these animals a danger to sea turtles? How do these predators impact the marine turtle population? The following article offers insight into the sea turtle predators and threats to be aware of.
16 Sea Turtle Predators
As I said, the open sea is never safe, not for humans or the creatures that live in the water. Like all marine animals, sea turtles struggle to survive in the ocean from day 0.
Managing a meal is not an issue in the water. Instead, these majestic turtles have to shield themselves from predators and other external threats.
I know what you are thinking. Who would prey on these shy and innocent sea turtles? Well, you can not blame any marine creature for feasting on the sea turtles since this balances the food chain in the ocean. But the sad part is that humans and human-made disasters are also a threat to the survival of these marine turtles.
Here is a list of the natural sea turtle predators,
1. Large Sharks:
Tiger sharks often get hold of the sea turtles and take a full bite from the flipper or any other body part. A damaged flipper or shell takes a long time to heal naturally. In many cases, the wound starts rotting and pushes the injured turtle towards death.
2. Killer Whales:
The whales mainly attack the leatherback sea turtles. There is an argument on the eating habits of killer whales. One group believes these beasts attack marine turtles without any intention of a feast. While others believe killer whales do eat sea turtles.
Most researchers claim that dolphins do not attack or eat sea turtles. Instead, these two creatures get along. However, some investigators beg to differ. According to them, dolphins might make a meal out of the marine turtle hatchlings.
4. Sea Fish:
I know it sounds impossible. But yes, fishes can devour baby sea turtles. Fishes like snapper, largemouth bass, grouper, barracuda, etc., often attack the turtles. Adult marine turtles are safe since they have a bulky feature.
Yes, I am talking about the largest cats in the central USA. Surprisingly, the jaguars love feasting on the nesting sea turtles during the season. The killing percentage may not be a big chunk. But if you think of the future consequences, you can not ignore such events.
6. Wild Boars:
Reportedly, the wild hogs often feast on the sea turtle nest. They enjoy the ping-pong-sized eggs and the newborn hatchlings.
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Sea turtle eggs are the perfect dinner meal for the coyotes. No matter how perfectly the mother turtles peck down the sand to hide the nest, it barely skips the eyes of the coyotes. They sense the eggs anyhow and make a feast on the clutch. Not only that, catching and eating hatchlings is another favorite prey habit of these animals.
While domestic dogs barely show aggression, the wild or feral dogs hunt for survival. According to a report, the outdoor village dogs have made the sea turtle nests a source of protein and nutrition.
They invade 5 to 55% of the egg chambers. No proper study has been conducted on such behaviors of the dogs yet. Though the dogs devour turtle eggs, they do not eat hatchlings. The highest they will do is to chew on their shells.
The cunning furry foxes are no different from the dogs or coyotes. Turtle eggs are a mouthwatering item for these mammals. These foxes often feast on the newly born sea turtle hatchlings as they are vulnerable and easier to catch.
I think raccoons are the most notorious predator for all turtle species. They will find the egg chambers, dig up, and get their dinner. If there is a hatchling on the shore, the raccoons will have the tastiest meal out of it. A report says that raccoons are often responsible for the turtle nest invasion.
Let me get the facts straight. Armadillos do not eat turtles but eggs. They often dig up the nest and feast on the sea turtle eggs. The yolk sacks also attract these animals, and as a result, the unhatched babies undergo the attack of the armadillos. These injured hatchlings do not survive for more than a few days in most cases.
Recently, researchers have tagged the mongooses as a threat to Hawaii. These non-native animals are impacting the ground-nesting bird and reptile clutches. Green sea turtle nests are still suffering the attack of the mongooses. Experts believe opportunistic feeders will not think twice to feast on the sea turtle hatchlings.
The vultures do not get along with the sea turtles. Eagles and hawks always keep an eye on any surfacing marine turtles. As soon as any small or medium-sized sea turtles come out to breathe or step on the land, these preying birds will engrave the claws in them and fly.
Once the birds reach a maximum height, they drop the turtles to crash their hard shell. Now, they have a fully prepared meal.
14. Fire ants:
Do not ignore the strength of these tiny insects. The fire ants can invade a full sea turtle clutch within days. The babies take 2 to 3 days to break the eggshell and come to the land. It is exactly the time when the fire ants attack the nest. Again, their sting is poisonous enough for the babies to survive.
The tropical crabs are cunning enough to get through the sand and reach the sea turtle eggs. They crack the shell using the hard claws and enjoy the meal. These crabs often attack the struggling sea turtle babies and feast on their bodies.
Sea turtles are not the favorite food item for the lizards. But on occasion, the lizards go harsh on the marine turtle eggs and hatchlings.
What Are Sea Turtles Biggest Predators?
Sea turtles have several enemies in the ocean. Among them, killer whales and tiger sharks are the biggest predators of marine turtles. These creatures are bulkier than the turtles and can damage them with a snap.
Let’s talk about the predation of whales on sea turtles first.
So, do killer whales eat sea turtles? See, I have already mentioned the debate on killer whales eating these marine reptiles. I support none of these two groups, but it is my duty to present all the facts out there.
In 2001, a team of researchers spotted a herd of Orcas (Killer Whales) preying on leatherback sea turtles. The incident took place right off the coast of California. They have published a paper later addressing such behavior of the killer whales and this type of predation impact on the marine turtle population.
Another similar incident took place in 2017. A photographer and biology student observed 3 killer whales picking on a pair of green sea turtles near the coast of Isla Isabella
The Orcas toyed with those green turtles for about half an hour. They grabbed the turtles by their fins and dragged them below the water surface multiple times. Then finally, the whales left the sea turtles without feasting.
So, why would killer whales prey on sea turtles in one incident and only toy with them in another? The exact answer is still unknown. However, the scientists believe that some Orcas may nurture the appetite for marine turtles, while others do not. Further research on this topic will reveal the truth behind such behavior of the sea turtles.
Now, let’s talk about the star predator of the sea, the tiger sharks.
The tiger sharks are often gone by the name of garbage eaters. I suggest you take the title by literal meanings as these beasts eat anything. Trust me on this. These sharks will devour everything, from a plastic pack to a full-sized human.
Considering the nature of tiger sharks, it is not impossible for them to eat a sea turtle. Several photographs, videos, and documentaries of sharks predating turtles are out on the internet.
These tiger sharks and killer whales get 18 feet and 22 feet bi, respectively. On the other hand, the largest marine turtle, the leatherback sea turtle, reach a carapace size of 9 feet. It means the sharks and whales are almost twice or thrice the size of an adult turtle. So, if those giant-sized creatures ever attack the turtles, they will stand no chance of survival.
What Is The Biggest Threat To Sea Turtles?
Humans are the biggest threat to sea turtles. Our involvement with marine turtle harvesting, poaching, setting net traps in the ocean, plastic dumping, etc., has affected the species population adversely.
Why in the world would humans interfere in the life of sea turtles? Allow me to explain in detail.
1. Harassing Messes Up Sea Turtle Life Cycle
Humans get in the way of marine turtles in every possible way. In many coastal islands, abundant sea turtles are the main attraction for tourists. Unfortunately, a few people know how to approach or interact with a majestic marine turtle. As a result, these people often end up harassing the turtles while snorkeling.
Do you know even touching a sea turtle is illegal?
Yes, you can not touch a sea turtle. It is a third-degree felony in Florida, and harassing the turtle will cost you almost a $20000 fine.
The law is imposed mainly because marine turtles are an endangered species. There are some other reasons for such strict rules too.
Human contact hampers their biofilm on the body and makes them vulnerable to sea bacteria. Also, the turtles are not used to any human interaction, and they detect us as a threat. Petting or cheering them can stress these turtles. Such interruptions often mess up the upcoming life cycle of the sea turtles.
2. Sea Turtles Are Not Meant To Be Your Pet
Sea turtles are majestic, and there is no doubt about that. But it does not mean you have the right to take one home.
The rich people often see the marine turtles as their collectibles and buy from the black market at a high price. As a turtle hobbyist, you should know that trading marine turtles are illegal in any part of the world.
Keeping a sea turtle is a crime in most countries. If the authorities find you with the species, they can fine you up to $20000 or give a jail order for 6 months.
You can not keep a sea turtle as a pet because the enclosed environment will kill the creature. The ocean surroundings and food sources are very different from the land. Experts suggest that locking up a marine turtle for a long time deducts years from its lifespan, and the animal probably dies way too early.
Sea turtles are already on the verge of extinction, and your luxurious hobby can pose a threat to them.
3. Poaching Is The Curse For The Species
Sea turtles are in demand all around the world. Even though trading this species is illegal, people are in this business for a tempting profit. Marine turtle poaching includes selling animal meat, eggs, bones, and shells.
Many local tribes celebrate their traditional occasions by slaughtering sea turtles and feasting on their meat. Not only that. Many restaurants also sell sea turtle meat and eggs as their exclusive menu to satisfy their top-tier customers. These companies buy these turtles from locals or black markets at a lucrative rate.
The poaching cycle does not end here.
As per many people, sea turtle shells and bones contain healing power. So, the whole skeleton of these turtles is sold illegally at a high rate. The bones are also used in handcrafts to manufacture rare and expensive collectibles.
Turtle hunters often go after this majestic species to make a good profit. Unfortunately, poaching and trading sea turtles have become a threat to the population, impacting their survival rate.
4. Sea Turtles In The Net Gear
Millions of sea turtles have already died entangled by the fishing nets and gears. According to official reports, around ten thousand marine turtles have lost their lives over the past 20 years by getting trapped in commercial fishing fleets. Experts suggest this number is near millions if you count globally and include all the unofficial cases.
So, thousands of marine turtles are getting killed every year only because we can not mind our business. Sadly, the fishermen seem to care a little about the sea turtles as long as their profit is intact.
In 2017, around 300 to 400 sea turtles of different species were found dead on the coast of El Salvador. The authority hadn’t made the news for days.
What caused such massive death of the sea turtles? It could be a natural disaster or related to fishing. Trawling nets trap thousands of sea turtles every year, and the fishermen dump them dead in the ocean as bycatch.
Can the sea turtles drown even though they know how to swim? Yes, they can.
Like all the turtle species, sea turtles have to come to the surface to replenish their lungs with fresh air. According to sources, a sea turtle can hold its breath for 4 to 7 hours and at a maximum of 10 hours.
When the marine turtles get entangled with a net, they can not swim up or down. Their body depletes more oxygen in the moment of stress. As a result, the turtles start losing their stored oxygen fast and drop dead. The boatmen then throw these caught dead bodies into the sea as keeping the species is illegal.
See, the sea turtle death due to fishing fleet entanglement was not severe in the past. But with the increasing number of boats, the death cases are skyrocketing. If we do not get alert now, the remaining sea turtles will soon disappear from the surface of mother earth.
5. Your Plastic Dump Takes The Life
Plastic pollution in the ocean has reached another level. A recent study indicates that almost half of the marine turtles have ingested plastic. Consuming one piece of this polymer means increasing the death possibility by 22%. There is no wonder the sea turtles are losing their lives at an early age.
Again, ingesting plastic leads to,
- Intestate blockage
- Internal bleeding
These plastics in the stomach mess up the digestive system of the turtles. They can not absorb nutrients from the food, and in many cases, the plastics make them feel full. The lack of nutrition is why the turtles become weaker and more vulnerable.
The sea turtle population is already on the decline, and plastic pollution is making it worse. It is sad to see that these innocent creatures have to pay for our luxuries and comfort with their lives.
Do Killer Whales Eat Sea Turtles?
While there are reports of killer whales eating sea turtles, some people refuse to believe in the theory. They believe the food habit of whales does not include marine turtles. These killer whales might attack the sea turtles but not devour them.
I have already discussed the dissimilarities in whale behavior regarding turtles. Several documentaries and research papers indicate the killing nature of the Orcas. These animals often chase and kill marine turtles as a part of their survival game. Leatherback sea turtles are their favorite prey among the species.
However, in some other documentaries, the enthusiastic nature of the whales has come to light. A video filmed in 2017 shows that three Orcas are toying with a pair of green sea turtles. These killer whales were rough and dragged the turtles aggressively. But in the end, they did not eat those reptiles.
Biologists and researchers suggest that whales toy with sea turtles very often. The turtles might get hurt during playtime, and those injuries lead to permanent damage or even death. Photographers of killer whales biting or dragging marine turtles by flippers are not rare.
So, do killer whales eat sea turtles or not? Well, the answer is both yes and no. The researchers are still after this bi-polar behavior of the whales. They believe that the surrounding and survival techniques might be playing a card here. We will know more details about the progress of these studies.
Do Dolphins Eat Baby Sea Turtles?
The cute dolphins in the ocean have a carnivorous appetite, which instigates them to hunt. Small dolphins often prey on cod, sawfish, herring, etc. On the other hand, the adult dolphins go aggressive on sea lions, seals, and even sea turtle hatchlings for the sake of survival.
Dolphins get 6 to 12 feet in size while the sea turtles reach the highest of 9 feet. It is challenging for the dolphins to chase an adult sea turtle because of their bulky figure. However, they can surely prey on the hatchlings.
Dolphins practice pinwheeling techniques while hunting down fishes and small creatures. When it comes to mammals or reptiles like sea turtles, they use their sharp beak and teeth for tearing up the flesh.
Dolphins prey on sea turtles, and this is the most accepted belief. However, one group seems to disagree. According to them, dolphins have a distinct taste, and turtles do not fit the description. We also can not say whether dolphins eat turtles or not due to the lack of proof.
Who Eats Sea Turtle Eggs?
Raccoons, coyotes, armadillos, feral dogs, fire ants, foxes, and a few other wild animals often feast on the sea turtle nests. These ping-pong-sized eggs are the source of nutrition for these creatures. In most cases, these wild animals also go after the hatchlings.
The gravid sea turtles come to the shore to lay their eggs. They can not deposit eggs in the water because of the pressure and surroundings. While on the beach, the mother turtles look for a suitable place to make their egg chambers. The gravid sea turtles often participate in communal nesting on sandy beaches.
The mothers cover the nest swiftly with dirt and sand using their flippers to make sure the chamber looks invisible after depositing eggs. Honestly, they are really good at their jobs as you have to struggle to spot a sea turtle nest. Once done, the mother marine turtles leave the shore and return to the water.
And now, the eggs are on their own, unprotected, and dependent on nature.
Though the mother turtles do their best to cover up the nests, in many cases, the predators can spot them with their instinct.
Raccoons, coyotes, armadillos, feral dogs, foxes, and fire ants are notorious for damaging sea turtle eggs. Among them, the raccoons are responsible for the majority of the invasions. They stay on the lookout for the turtle nests and dig up if spotted one. Raccoons are solely responsible for the low survival rate of snapping turtle nests too.
Armadillos, on the other hand, are attracted to the egg yolks. So, they make their way into the chamber and feast on the eggs.
Dogs are the surprising candidate for sea turtle eggs, but it is true. Feral dogs in the village were caught eating marine turtle eggs. In many areas, this type of invasion rate is over 50%.
Lastly, you can not ignore the power of the fire ants only because of their size. These ants can access the nests without any effort and finish the hundreds of eggs within 2/3 days.
What Is The Number One Killer Of Sea Turtles?
Tiger sharks are the number one predator of sea turtles in the ocean. The killer whales also prey on these marine turtles, but they might not eat them as a whole. Instead, the whales injure the turtles by biting their flippers or shell.
Tiger sharks are notorious for being non-selective feeders, which means they eat whatever comes their way. These voracious predators grow 14 to 18 feet and weigh around 850 to 1400 lbs. Also, they can move swiftly in the ocean at a speed of about 20mph.
Both the bulky body structure and fast speed works in favor of the tiger sharks while hunting. These creatures do no mercy when it comes to survival. Everything is a meal for tiger sharks, from small carbs to big mammals. Unfortunately, the marine turtles also fall under the food category for these beasts.
Tiger sharks have advantages in size. As a result, the sea turtles can barely defend themselves against these animals. Also, the sharp teeth of the sharks can pierce through the turtle’s body.
What Percentage Of Baby Sea Turtles Make It To The Ocean?
Gravid sea turtles lay 100 eggs on average in every nesting season, and unfortunately, not all of them can see the light of the day. While the hatching success rate is around 50 to 60%, about 90% of them can make it to the ocean.
Do you know how many eggs a sea turtle lays each season? Sources say a marine turtle can lay several clutches. Each of these clutches contains eggs between 40 to 200. It means this species deposits hundreds of eggs on average. But unfortunately, not all of these eggs can see the light of life.
A significant number of eggs can get damaged due to pressure and improper growth temperature. Again, if the predators find any of the nests, they will dig up and eat as many eggs as they can reach. Luckily more than 50% of the eggs hatch naturally, even with these many obstacles.
Coming to the surface is a challenging task for the hatchlings. They push the sands together and make a way out. A study claims that around 7% of the hatched sea turtles do not make it to the ocean. They lose their lives to the predators or in any undesired incident.
Let’s say a sea turtle has reached the ocean. What now? Can you guarantee its living? No!
The ocean is a tough place to make your living, even for these babies. Sea turtle hatchlings are vulnerable and exposed to all the dangers out there. Experts say about 0.01% of the baby marine turtles can live to adulthood.
Seawater pollution, climate change, and predator attacks are mainly responsible for the low survival rate of marine turtles. We can’t stop the sea creatures from balancing their food chain by killing each other. But we can definitely come forward and prevent human-made disasters impacting the ocean.
Are Sea Turtles Endangered Because Of Plastic?
Plastic is indeed one of the reasons why sea turtles are at the edge of extinction. Every year thousands of marine turtles die because of plastic consumption and entanglement in the dumped debris. If plastic pollution continues at this rate, these rare sea species will disappear soon.
Plastic has blessed our lives in so many ways, and there is no way of denying it. But on the dark side, the same polymer is creating chaos and imbalance in our ecosystem. You can see the plastic pollution impact on only on land but also in the ocean. Sadly, marine creatures, including sea turtles, suffer for our comfort.
About 8 million metric tons of plastic go to the sea every year. Not to mention the 150 million metric tons of plastic are already sitting at the ocean chambers.
Can you guess how long it would take to degrade these plastic wastes? One plastic requires 20 to 500 years to disappear from the earth’s surface, and now you do the math.
Each year at least 1000 sea turtles die by tangling with plastic debris in Australia. Again, 52% of the existing marine turtles have ingested plastic in their lifetime once or multiple times. Moreover, plastic was found in the stomach of around 70% of the total dead loggerhead sea turtles in Queensland state.
Wait. There is more to it.
A team of researchers from the USA, UK, and Australia has conducted experiments on 102 sea turtles from different ocean parts. According to their report, each of these turtles has ingested plastic. They believe that half of the marine turtle population has consumed plastic once in their life.
Can you still not imagine the severity of this plastic pollution?
Ingested plastic blocks the intestines of sea turtles or even worse. Sometimes, these wastes cut their stomach walls and cause internal bleeding. Plastic hinders the healthy absorption of nutrients in the body, and as a result, the turtles get weaker day by day.
Again, the creatures might feel full because of the wastes in their stomach. Hence, they would avoid eating for days.
None of these above situations are beneficial for sea turtles. Experts suggest that one plastic means the turtle has a 22% chance of dying. The animals with ingested plastic become unfit for survival and die premature death.
Again, the entanglement with the plastic debris or roaming around with the waste is not a good thing either. Data suggests that about 92% of marine turtles trapped in the fishing net lost their lives. I still remember the viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in the nostril. It caused the creature immense pain and discomfort to swim with it.
I know what you are thinking. Why would sea turtles eat plastic?
The floating plastic in the ocean resembles jellyfish to sea turtles. As a result, they go for feasting and suffer afterward.
The plastic pollution issue has become severe for marine life. The whole thing will backfire if necessary steps are not taken. As the government alone can not fight the plastic problem, we all have to come forward to help.
We can minimize plastic consumption and focus on bio-degradable options. Recycling plastics would also be a great help to balance the ecosystem.
Do Coyotes Eat Sea Turtles?
Coyotes do eat sea turtles. Several reports of such invasions have been made public by the concerned authorities.
News of 2015 indicates the severity of the coyote attack on the marine turtle nests. According to the article, these wild creatures had dug up about 60 sea turtle nests and had their meals. The invasion was not only limited to the eggs. These animals also had their shares on newborn marine turtles.
The organizers ensured that the coyote attacks might not be as severe as they might sound. These animals eat only 60 to 120 eggs and a few hatchlings. Then they move to leave the nests and the hatchlings. On the other hand, raccoons destroy the whole clutch of eggs alone.
Do Jaguars Eat Sea Turtles?
It might sound odd, but the jaguars have their eyes on the sea turtles. Such behavior among these big cats has been observed for several years now.
Costa Rica’s Playa Nancite beach is a community nesting place for many marine turtles. While on the mission, the gravid turtles make a stay on the sandy beach for several days.
The jaguars of that region keep a close eye on these giant sea turtles. Preying on one turtle satisfies their hunger for a few days. The jaguars are fast and full of life. Hence they do not have to struggle to kill a turtle.
Scientists are still investigating this behavior of the jaguars but nowhere near the answer. They predict the number of jaguar attacks on sea turtles will increase in the near future. It might impact the marine turtle population.
The predation and killing of sea turtles is a cycle of nature, and such activities balance the food chain. If you try to influence this loop, the whole ecosystem will collapse. Hence, we should try saving the marine turtles as much as possible within our limits, for example, preventing water pollution and making people aware of sea turtle life.