Description: The Hawksbill is a marine sea turtle with an elongated oval shell, overlapping scutes on the carapace, flippers with two claws and a tapered head that ends in a sharp point resembling a bird’s beak (giving it its common name). The carapace is usually brown in color with patches of yellow, orange or rufous. The plastron (underside) is yellowish with black spots. The carapace of juveniles is somewhat heart-shaped, becoming more elliptical as they mature. Their brownish-black coloration is highlighted with yellow along the edge of the shell, the limbs and raised ridges on carapace. Because of its brown, amber and yellow marbled markings, this shell is in high demand for “tortoise shell” commercial items.
Size: The Hawksbill sea turtle is a small to medium-sized marine turtle Adults are 2.5 – 3 feet (0.76-0.91 m) in carapace length and weigh between 100-150 pounds (45-68 kg). Hatchlings weigh about 0.5 oz (14 gr). Males have longer claws, thicker tails and somewhat brighter coloring than females
Behavior: They are typically diurnal (except during mating season) and solitary. These good swimmers comb the reefs and continental shelves searching for food. Like other sea turtles, they make long migrations in order to move from feeding sites to nesting grounds. When sleeping or just resting, they can be found in cracks, crevices or coral reefs.
Diet: Although omnivorous, they feed primarily on sponges but will also eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish and jellyfish.
Senses: Hawksbills, like other sea turtles, can hear well and have a strong sense of smell. They can see well under water. Vibrations are conducted to the inner ear by a bone in the middle ear, allowing sea turtles to respond not only to vibrations, but low frequency sounds as well. They respond to touch on their flippers and shells. The ability to return to the nesting beaches may be due to magnetic fields or phases/positions of the moon.
Communication: It is believed this species may communicate both through sight and sound, particularly when mating. They also have mating behaviors such as head bobbing and biting.
Reproduction: The nesting season varies with location, but usually occurs between April and November and occurs every two to three years at night. Females return to the beaches where they were born to find an area to lay their eggs. They typically select an area with vegetation or one that is high up on the beach. They dig a hole, lay about 140 eggs and cover the nest. At this stage the turtles retreat to the sea, leaving the eggs, which will hatch in about 60 days. The nesting procedure, which takes one to three hours, may be repeated four or five times, approximately every 14-16 days, during one nesting season. After the eggs hatch, the newborn turtles head straight for the water.
Habitat/range: Considered to be the most tropical of all sea turtles, they are found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They frequent rocky areas, coral reefs, shallow coastal areas, lagoons or oceanic islands. They are usually seen in water no deeper than 66 feet (20 m).
Status: Endangered throughout its range, Hawksbill turtles are protected by many treaties, agreements and national laws. They are listed on CITES Appendix I, Critically Endangered (CR) on IUCN Red List and Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Their status is due to exploitation for their prized shells, habitat degradation, nest predation, marine pollution, etc.