The Loggerhead Sea Turtle
The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is a medium to large turtle. Adults are reddish-brown in color and generally 31-45 inches (79-159 cm) with the record set at 48+ inches (122+ cm). Loggerheads weigh 170-350 lbs. (77-159 kg) with the record at 500+ lbs. (227 kg). Young loggerheads are brown above and whitish, yellowish, or tan beneath with three keels on their back and two on their underside.
The flesh of the loggerhead is not as esteemed for eating as with other sea turtles. Therefore, hunting has not been as great a factor in the decline of loggerheads as it has been with other species. However, gathering loggerhead eggs for use in bakeries was once a thriving industry in St. Augustine, Florida. The major factors leading to the decline of the loggerhead have been loss of eggs (due to humans and predators) and mortality due to fisheries operations (primarily shrimp trawling). Under the Endangered Species Act the loggerhead is considered "threatened".
Loggerheads usually come ashore at night to nest and lay clutches of 80-125 eggs. Eggs incubate approximately 45-60 days, dependent upon temperature and a variety of other factors. Hatchlings are 1 5/8 to 1 7/8 inches (4.1-4.8 cm) in length and are very active while crawling down the beach. Once in the water hatchlings swim out to the nearest floating mass of sargassum weed and spend the first portion or their lives there feeding, growing, and drifting with the currents of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Loggerheads range in the western Atlantic from the Canadian Maritime Provinces to Argentina. It is the most common sea turtle encountered in the southeastern U.S. and is frequently observed around wrecks, underwater structures, and reefs where it feeds on crabs, jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war, and mollusks. Loggerheads are found not only in the Atlantic, but also worldwide, nesting in such diverse places as Brazil, Japan, South Africa, and Australia.
Loggerheads nest in the U.S. from Texas to as far north as Virginia and (rarely) to Maryland and New Jersey. Ninety percent of all U.S. nesting is estimated to occur in Florida, especially southeastern Florida, where around 20,000 nests are recorded annually, making it one of the five major loggerhead rookeries in the world.
A few loggerhead nests are usually found at Padre Island National Seashore each year. During the last decade, nesting has remained relatively stable on the Texas coast, with 0-6 nests per year. Although nests have been found state-wide, the largest numbers have been located at the National Seashore. Nesting has been documented on the Texas coast between June and mid-August. Some nests may go undetected since most nest detection efforts end in mid-July and loggerheads may nest through mid-August. Due to the rarity of loggerhead nests and the very active state and unpredictability of the hatchlings, releases of loggerhead hatchlings are rarely open to the public at the National Seashore.