Hawksbill turtle record, Gonubie (East London) SA

A Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) was reported yesterday having washed up at Gonubie. It was retrieved today by the museum and a partial necropsy undertaken to determine whether there was any ingestion of marine debris – the result was negative. This critically endangered species occasionally visits our seas (east coast) but never breeds along our coast. The bill is strongly hooked (hence the name ‘hawksbill’) and the plates on the upper surface are imbricated (arranged so that they overlap like roof tiles) giving it the species name imbricata.

There has been an 80% decline in Hawksbill numbers over the past century. Only about 8 000 females worldwide nest every 2-3 years (about a 1 000 nesting annually) producing between 60-200 eggs. These turtles are particularly threatened by the wildlife trade as they are collected from the tropics for their colourful yellow and brown carapace plates that are used to make tortoiseshell items (‘bekko’” or ‘carey’) for ornaments and jewellery.

They can grow to 90 cm in length and the specimen pictured measured 40 cm with a width of 33 cm. The total length of the head measured 8 cm. Turtles have been around for more than 100 million years and sadly this record comes less than a week after World Turtle Day (May 23rd).

Gerhard Pretorius is thanked for reporting this find and Dean Brown is thanked for securing the specimen for the museum.

About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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