Do Sea Turtles Need Salt Water? (Ultimate Guide)

Copyright: Eekhoorntje in Wikipedia

Sea turtles are considered to be the most majestic of all turtle species. They are known for their gentle nature and large size. These ocean reptiles have a long lifespan as well. Anyone will be mesmerized seeing these creatures glide underwater. Snorkelers and divers usually witness sea turtles swim effortlessly.

Although sea turtles are usually associated with tropical places. They can be found all over the world’s ocean. The only exception is the polar seas since it’s too cold for them to live in. Sea turtles are almost everywhere but they are now on the endangered species list. So it’s best to learn more about them.

Do Sea Turtles Need Saltwater?

Yes, sea turtles need saltwater since they also drink from there. When they eat, it’s impossible for them not to ingest the salty water. Unlike other animals, sea turtles can get rid of the excess salt. The large glands by their eyes are responsible for releasing higher concentrations of salt.

That gland will make them look like they’re crying but it’s just salt. They can get rid of the excess salt from seawater. Sea turtles require to have those large glands since jellyfish are their favorite food around. It will help them to get rid of its high salt content. The large gland makes it possible for them to remain healthy and hydrated.

Can a Sea Turtle Survive in Freshwater?

There are about 356 turtle species all over the world. Only seven of them are sea turtles. Sixty of them are terrestrial tortoises. The rest are living in freshwater habitats such as streams, lakes, and ponds. 70% of those turtle species live near the coastlines who experience rising sea levels.

What would happen if a sea turtle was put in freshwater? Sea turtles will swim around like it will when it’s on saltwater. Altogether it will not be as healthy as it will be in salt water, it will survive. Unlike marine fishes, freshwater will not kill sea turtles since they can adapt to it.

Do Sea Turtles Live in Saltwater?

Yes, sea turtles live in saltwater since they have adapted to the ocean. They have unique abilities to survive in the marine environment. Sea Turtles are reptiles so they need air to breathe. They also go on land to lay their eggs. Although they spent most of their lives underwater.

Sea turtles are different compared with their freshwater relatives. Their head and limbs are fixed outside. They cannot retract in their shells. That feature and their streamlined shell make them move easily around the water. It will let them easily maneuver in a saltwater habitat because of their hydrodynamics.

Can Sea Turtles Live in Tap Water?

No, tap water contains chlorine as well as fluoride. It will make the pH of the water unbalanced. Sea turtles cannot survive on that setup. If you happen to have a large tank for a sea turtle, the water must be dechlorinated. Use a filtration system as well for the water since turtles will drink from it as they swim.

How Long Can a Sea Turtle Stay Out of Water?

Sea turtles rarely go out of the water. They only do that when they need to lay their eggs. Although they sometimes climb on logs or rocks to bask in the sun. Sea turtles live their entire lives in and out of the water. But when the humidity is low, they can stay out of water for a week.

It also depends on the temperature, turtle species, and their age. Turtles will go on brumation (hibernation) when the temperature of their surroundings falls below 7C. The difference in brumation from hibernation is the animals will be active when the temperature rises. They don’t need to wait for a specific period.

Do Sea Turtles Bite?

Yes, sea turtles will bite you when they feel threatened. They are not aggressive but it can happen if they sense danger. Sea turtles have sharp breaks and powerful jaws. When they bite you, it will be painful for sure. They can create severe skin bruises and leave a mark. In some cases, they can even break human bones.

What’s the Oldest Sea Turtle?

In 2006, scientists discovered a sea turtle in a seabed near Iceland. After further analysis, they found out that the specific sea turtle is about 507 years old. While the oldest sea turtle in captivity is around 400 years old. That sea turtle weighs 300 kilograms. It can be found at the Guangzhou Aquarium in China.

Do Turtles Die Outside the Water?

Turtles are not amphibious creatures so they can live outside of water. But the problem is, their food source can be found in the water such as algae. Keeping them out of the water for a long time is not a good idea. It’s the turtles’ natural habitat and providing them access to water will keep them healthy.

Diversity and Evolution of Sea Turtles

Sea turtles live in the ocean since they have adapted to it. They evolve to have unique features to survive in the marine environment. But these creatures need to breathe air since they have lungs instead of gills. Sea turtles also have to go to the land to lay their eggs.

Their head and limbs are also fixed outside their shells. That made it impossible for them to retract kike other turtle species. These turtles have to streamline shells and flippers. It made them hydrodynamic swimmers because of these features. Although they are not extremely fast when swimming, they can do 0.9 to 5.8 mph.

When frightened, they can swim up to 22 mph. Sea turtles have long flippers that help them to power up their bodies and move through the water. Unlike their freshwater relatives, they don’t have webbed feet. They have huge and strong front flippers that act as paddles. It helps them to propel through the water.

Their smaller back flippers work as rudders that allow them to steer while swimming. Female sea turtles have hind flippers and it serves different purposes. Aside from swimming, it helps them to dig their nest. They use these to dig through the sand to create an egg chamber. It’s useful for them when they come ashore to lay their eggs.

How Sea Turtles Survive in Saltwater?

There are seven sea turtle species around the world. They are part of about 100 marine reptile species. It’s not easy to live in a marine environment. They need to have special features to survive the excessive salt of this environment. When sea turtles get a high concentration on their bodies, it can be lethal for them.

Sea turtles ingest a huge amount of saltwater when they eat. They can get rid of the excess salt by the large glands they have in their eyes. It releases the salt in higher concentrations compared to its surrounding saltwater. These salt glands are the reason why a lot of people think that they are crying.

Compared to other sea turtle species, the leatherback turtle has extremely big salt glands. It’s twice as big as their brains since they prefer to eat jellyfish. These creatures are composed of seawater. That’s why the leatherback turtle ingests more salt as they feed on jellyfish than other sea turtle species.

Can Sea Turtles Breathe Underwater?

No, sea turtles can’t breathe underwater even if they live most of their lives in it. Instead, they can hold their breath for a long time. Sea turtles can do that between 4 to 7 hours when they rest. Their heart rate will also slow down significantly. Doing this will help them to conserve their oxygen supply.

This ability allows the sea turtles to dive deep for them to find their food. Some sea turtles can dive between the depths of 960 ft. But the leatherback turtles can dive for more than 3,000 ft. The maximum depth they ever dove was 3,947 ft. The leatherback turtles can do this amazing diving depth because of their deep-diving adaptations and their food choices.

The leatherback turtles are different compared to other sea turtle species. They have a flexible shell that can absorb nitrogen. Their lungs are also collapsable allowing them to compress while diving. It helps them cope with the pressure change. These turtles have a huge storage of oxygen from their blood and muscles. Their slowed heart rate can also conserve oxygen as they dive deep into the ocean.

What is the Sea Turtles Special Features?

The sizes of sea turtle species vary and the smallest is about the size of dinner plates. The largest sea turtle is the leatherbacks and they can reach the size of a golf cart. During the Cretaceous period, the archelon is a giant turtle that lived between 80 to 66 million years ago. It can grow about 13 feet in length.

1. Sea Turtle Shell

The most striking feature of sea turtles is their shell. The carapace is the top part while the plastron is on the bottom. The carapace and the plastron have two separate layers. The first one consists of flattened bone plates. It grows between them and fuses with the ribs when the sea turtles grow.

While the second layer is called the scutters. It’s made of keratin that protects the sea turtles and it prevents water loss. The scutes are firm and flexible but not brittle. Different kinds of scutes may vary depending on their location from the turtle’s body. Their scales can also overlap but not all the time as some scientists observed.

Leatherback Turtles

The leatherback sea turtle has a rubbery shell. But it’s not made of keratin scutes as other sea turtles have. They have a semi-flexible carapace instead. It’s covered in waxy and leathery skin. They have thousands of small bone plates to make their carapace strong.

Their shells have seven keels on their carapace. It helps them to streamline their momentum when they dive deep. But their shells can do more than that. Other ocean organisms use the sea turtle shells as their feeding station, even their home. Epibionts are small organisms that live on the top of sea turtle shells. These may include algae, barnacles, and small crabs.

There are more than a hundred different epibionts that were identified in a single loggerhead sea turtle shell. They can end up having too many of these organisms on their shells. That will weigh them down and it can cause them to have a hard time moving. Luckily, some fish like to eat these epibionts. They clean the sea turtle shells by eating away these organisms.

2. Sense of Sight

Sea turtles can be found submerged in the water most of the time. It’s their natural habitat where they spend most of their time there. They need to go up the water surface to breathe as well. The new hatchlings and nesting female sea turtles have some time on dry land. That’s why their eyes adapted to see from water and air. But their vision is much clearer when they are under the waves.

For animals that spend their time in both air and aquatic habitats, their eyes are a combination of these two types. For sea turtles, they have flat corneas. The nearly spherical lens adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. In land, they can be a bit nearsighted. But they can see better under the ocean. Their eyes are more suited underwater than in an air environment.

Sea Turtles Eyes

Sea turtles also spend their time in different depths in the ocean. That means that it has different light levels. The light will be dimmer depending on the depth. Although sea turtles have eyes that can see better in bright lights.

The rods are the cells in the eyes that detect movement in dim lights. While the cones are the cells for detecting colored lights. For animals that see well in the dark, they have more rods than cones in their eyes. Large eyes with large pupils can also help some animals to see better in dim lights.

Sea turtles have small eyes compared to their body size. They have fairly distributed rods and cones in their eyes. It helps the sea turtles to see better in bright lights. That’s why it is odd that they can dive and feed in depth. But the reason may be because they can see their prey’s bioluminescence.

Their pupils are big enough to detect the light and locate their food even if it’s dark. Based on a 2012 study, the juvenile loggerhead and green turtles possess photoreceptor cells. They can see in color but they may not actually distinguish what colors they see. Further studies will be needed to see if they can recognize colors.

Other Types of Eyes

For humans, we have a curved cornea in which refracts light to see from the air. When submerged in the water, the corneas lose their ability to refract light. That causes you to have an unfocused view when you open your eyes underwater. While fish have their cornea as a protective barrier underwater. Their lens contained the refractive power of their eyes.

3. Ears and Hearing

Sea turtles don’t have an outer ear like humans. It’s also smaller and not visible from their head. But they can hear the vibrations underwater. The sea turtle’s ears are covered by tympanum which is a protective layer of skin. Under it is a layer of fat that is unique to sea turtles.

This layer acts the same way with toothed whales’ fatty tissues according to scientists. It can channel low-frequency sounds to their inner ears. In a study in 2014, hatchling and juvenile loggerhead sea turtles can hear low-frequency sounds. They can also respond to it which suggests that sea turtles have the same feature as whales. They can hear low-frequency sounds as well.

4. Sense of Touch

If the body shell of a sea turtle has been touched, they can feel it. There’s a series of thin nerves that run along with their shells. It can detect pressure changes that are similar to touch. But these nerves don’t have pain receptors which means they will not feel pain when touched.

But they have thin nerves that can transmit the information on the turtle’s body. Therefore they may feel pain when held roughly in their shells. Researchers observed that they respond when touched on their skin to their flippers.

5. Sense of Smell

Sea turtles have a well-developed sense of smell. Aside from their vision, it can improve their ability to sense the location of their prey. They can smell them even in the dark and musty water. It can be an advantage for sea turtles.

Their sense of smell also helps the female sea turtles when nesting. It helps them to go back to their home beach. That’s where they lay their eggs all the time. It includes Kemp’s ridley turtles that also have an acute sense of smell.

6. Magnetic Sense

Another amazing feature of sea turtles is their ability to detect and utilize the magnetic field of the Earth. But scientists still haven’t fully understood how magnetic sensitivity works for them. A study on a baby loggerhead sea turtle has been conducted. It was placed in a pool of water with a controlled lab setting.

The behavior of the hatchling was observed by the researchers in varied magnetic pool orientations. The sea turtles were exposed to simulated magnetic conditions. It placed them either south or north based on their normal migratory patterns. The sea turtles swim in the direction that will put them back in the right migratory course.

Their amazing magnetic sense gives the sea turtles directional information. It’s the same when humans use a magnetic compass. They will be directed on their current location and position on the planet. It helps them to be oriented when they travel. The magnetic sense works like the sea turtles’ magnetic compass. It helps them to find the right direction to go.


1. How Long Do Sea Turtles Stay Out of Water?

Sea turtles can stay out of water for as long as one week. They have adapted to this situation when they are staying in shallow waters. Generally, turtles can stay without water for 6 to 12 hours. When they hibernate, it can reach up to six months.

2. Do Turtles Cry When Killed?

Killing turtles is a brutal action and it should be stopped. Some people will cut the turtle shell while alive. They will extract their meat from it. The turtle’s eyes will begin to water and appear like it’s crying. But this brutal act can cause too much pain for the turtle.

3. Why Can’t Humans Drink Sea Water?

You should not drink seawater since it will dehydrate you. The human body doesn’t have gland-like sea turtles. You cannot get rid of the excessive salt from the seawater. Although the kidneys can remove the excess salt by producing urine.

Your body needs to have fresh water to dilute the salt and for the kidneys to work properly. Excessive amounts of salt in the body can also make you develop diseases. That’s why humans can’t drink seawater since it can cause a negative impact on your health.

4. Can Sea Turtles Cry?

Sea turtles dont cry like humans do. They have evolved to have lacrimal glands. It’s a specialized secretory gland and it’s located in the corner of their eyes. It can remove the excess salt that they ingest from seawater. This liquid provides the appearance of them crying.

5. How Do Turtles Reproduce?

Turtles will lay their eggs between 3 to six weeks after mating. The female turtle will use their hind legs to dig the nest. That’s where they lay their eggs. For bigger turtles, they seem to lay more eggs in one clutch and it’s also bigger than usual. After the turtles lay and deposit their eggs, the female turtle’s duty as a mother is done.


Although sea turtles live in the ocean most of their lives, they can still get out from the water. Breathing and basking are some of their reasons to leave the ocean. Laying eggs is another reason for female sea turtles. They can stay for some time in different conditions. But allowing them to stay in their natural habitat is the best.

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