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Animal in Focus: Turtles

  • Wednesday 29th May 2019

A Child Watches One Of The Turtles In Turtle Rescue

They’re not slow, and they’re not shy! Turtles are fascinating, and the more we learn about our flippered friends, the better. For a start, don’t confuse them with their land-bound cousins, the tortoise. Sea Turtles can be fast, paddling at speed through the water. Remember the scene from Finding Nemo, where the turtles zoom through the ocean? Most of our New Zealand Sea Turtles are capable of speed, but for the most part, they’re happy cruising around, looking for lunch.


Who’s Who?

In New Zealand, we have 5 species of Sea Turtles. Leatherback Turtles are common locally but critically endangered globally. You’re likely to see them around North Cape, and Northland, on the Eastern side. Loggerhead Turtles only visit from time to time, mostly around the upper North Island. Fun fact: Did you know Loggerheads can hibernate at the bottom of the sea? They only surface to breathe about once every ten hours! Hawksbill Turtles are ‘tropical turtles’. These are the ones you might see on a tropical island holiday, where the water is shallow and warm. Locally, they favour the upper North island. However, this species is critically endangered, so the chance of spotting a Hawksbill Turtle is rare. Green Turtles are also found in the warm, shallow waters. As adults, they are herbivorous and love munching on seagrasses and sponges. Rangaunu Harbour and Poor Knights Islands are some of their favourite places. Olive Ridley Turtles are scarce locally but look like Green Turtles, with more olive colour. The funny name was bestowed by fishermen, who considered these turtles to be an unusual ‘riddle.’


Turtle Tucker

Sea Turtles eat anything from molluscs and anemones to seagrass and sponges! Some have adapted narrow jaws to fish out tasty morsels from crevices in coral and rock. Others can grind through the tough exteriors of shellfish and shrimp. A Sea Turtle’s diet can also change throughout its lifespan. Unfortunately, they often snack on plastic, mistaking it for food. Shopping bags, in particular, can look like tasty jellyfish. The Department of Conservation (DOC) often gets called to rescue stranded or injured turtles, bringing them to SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium for rehabilitation. We work closely with the New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine to give these turtles the best chance of survival. SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's is the only place in New Zealand that rehabilitates turtles, so we’re an essential link in the marine wellness chain!


Take a Turtle Journey!

See first-hand how we work with turtles in our all-new Turtle Bay interactive zone! We want to share the experience with you, so you become part of the turtle’s journey back to the ocean. By encouraging understanding, we hope you’ll form a connection with these fantastic animals and care about their future! We are so lucky to have 5 kinds of Sea Turtle in New Zealand, so we want to preserve their presence, despite threats to their environment. That’s why our Turtle Rehab program is such a positive experience for visitors and our dedicated staff.


Sea Turtles are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. If you ever find one stranded the best thing to do is call the DOC on 0800 DOC HOT or SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium. We’ll tell you what to do next! And if you’d like to experience a rescued turtle’s journey, come and visit us soon in Turtle Bay!