The Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Common Name: Hawksbill - named for its narrow head and hawk-like beak.

Scientific Name: Eretmochelys imbricata

Description: The hawksbill is one of the smaller and most agile of all sea turtles. The shell is prized for its use in tortoiseshell jewelry and ornaments, and so this turtle is poached throughout the world. Despite its economic importance, it is probably the species of sea turtle about which scientists know the least.

Their head is narrow and has 2 pairs of scales in front of its eyes. Jaw is not serrated and hawk-like in appearance. Top shell is bony without ridges and has large, over-lapping scutes (scales) present. Bottom shell is elliptical in shape. Flippers have 2 claws. The top shell is orange, brown or yellow and hatchlings are mostly brown with pale blotches on scutes.

Adults: 2.5 to 3 feet in length and can weigh between 100 to 150 pounds.
Hatchlings: 1.5 to 1.9 inches in length.

Diet: The hawksbill's narrow head and jaws shaped like a beak allow it to get food from crevices in coral reefs. They eat sponges, anemones, squid and shrimp.

Habitat: Typically found around coastal reefs, rocky areas, estuaries and lagoons.

Nesting: Nest at intervals of 2, 3, or more years. Nests between 2 to 4 times per season. Lays an average 160 eggs in each nest. Eggs incubate for about 60 days. Hawksbill’s do not nest on CAHA’s beaches, but juveniles and adults are found off our shores and in our sounds.

Range: Most tropical of all sea turtles. Tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Listed as Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act.
International: Listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Population Estimate: 22,900 nesting females (male population numbers are unknown).

Last updated: April 14, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


(252) 473-2111

Contact Us