Sea Turtles - Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many turtles are there and what are they?


There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide. Some researchers believe there are eight; this is based on the whether or not they believe the black turtle is a separate species from the green turtles. The seven species are: leatherback, green, loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley, kempt’s ridley and flatback.

2. What types of sea turtles are found in Canadian waters? Do any sea turtles nest on Canadian beaches?


There are three species of sea turtle that frequent Canadian waters: leatherback, loggerhead and green. No sea turtles nest on Canadian beaches.

3. Are sea turtle dinosaurs?


Sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years and are among the oldest creatures on earth. Archelon is an ancestor of the sea turtles we see today and lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

4. What is the biggest sea turtle in the world?


The leatherback turtle is the largest; adults reach between 121 and 183 cm (4-6 feet).

5. How does a sea turtle breathe?


Like humans, sea turtles breathe air into and out of their lungs through their nose and mouth. They go to the surface of the water to breathe and can hold their breath for several hours depending on their activity level. Some turtles have been found to hibernate in cooler water temperatures for several months.

6. Do all sea turtles have a hard shell?


All but the leatherback turtle have a hard shell or carapace. The leatherback has a thin layer of tough skin supported by thousands of bone plates giving it a “leathery” appearance.

7. How deep can sea turtles dive?


The deepest diving sea turtle is the leatherback who can reach depths of more than 1,000 metres (3,000 feet).

8. How do migrating sea turtles know where they are going?


Some research suggests that sea turtles have the ability to detect magnetic fields and can calculate latitude and longitude but further studies are needed to confirm this. Also, it is believed that similar to species such as salmon, sea turtle hatchlings are imprinted with the unique qualities of their natal beach and females may use these cues to return as nesting adults.

9. How do scientists study turtles in the wild?


Scientists tag turtles so they can monitor things like nesting behaviours, growth rates and migration routes. Sea turtles can be tagged using three different methods: 1) flipper tags; 2) Passive Integrated Transponder tags (PIT tags); and, 3) satellite transmitters.

10. What is DFO’s role in protecting sea turtles?


All sea turtles found in Canadian waters are protected under the Fisheries Act, which protects all aquatic animals and their habitat. Both of Canada’s transient Pacific and Atlantic populations of leatherback turtles are listed as Endangered under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. The SARA listing is used to prevent species from becoming extinct and to provide for the recovery of threatened or endangered species like sea turtles.

11. How do I help protect sea turtles?


Learn as much as you can about sea turtles and things that threaten them so you can make educated decisions in your everyday life, including:

  • Not using balloons during celebrations – sea turtles mistakenly eat them and die.
  • Properly disposing of garbage. Plastics (especially bags & styrofoam) that make it to the ocean or beach can be confused with food.

If you live near or are visiting a beach where sea turtles nest you should:

  • Minimize (redirect or use red/orange bulbs) or turn out beachfront lights during nesting season.
  • Not build campfires on the beach during nesting season.
  • Not disturb nests you find on the beach – you could harm the eggs and make it impossible for the hatchlings to emerge from the nest.
  • Remove beach furniture from the beach at night so that it doesn’t interfere with nesting.
  • If you encounter a turtle on the beach at night sit quietly at a distance until she is done nesting otherwise she may return to the ocean without nesting and the eggs will be lost.
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