It’s dangerous out there for a newborn turtle. From the moment they hatch, predators such as dogs, foxes and pigs are on the prowl, hungry for the taste of baby turtle.
But it was a less dangerous introduction to the world this week for loggerhead turtle hatchlings born in the safer surrounds of the Queensland Museum.
In an Australian first, the eggs have been incubated and timed to hatch on a certain date so visitors to the inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane could watch their arrival into the world.
Queensland Museum’s Reptile Curator, Patrick Couper, has played surrogate mum to the turtles, ensuring they hatch just as the eager public descends on the festival.
The museum is also playing host to some equally special young flatback turtles, a species found only in the waters of the Australian continental shelf.
Following the festival, most of the hatchlings will be transported to Yeppoon and released offshore.
The remaining hatchlings will be taken to Underwater World, on the Sunshine coast, where they will be fitted with transmitters. This will enable scientists to track their movements when they are later released.
Anyone keen to see the turtles can head to the final two days of the World Science Festival Brisbane (click here for more information).
The project was designed and supervised by Dr Colin Limpus, an internationally renowned turtle biologist, and approved by the Queensland Museum Animal Ethics Committee.
The secret lives of loggerheads
Loggerhead turtles are the most abundant of all the marine turtle species. But persistent population declines due to pollution, shrimp trawling, and development in their nesting areas, among other factors, have kept this wide-ranging seagoer on the threatened species list since 1978.
Their enormous range encompasses all but the most frigid waters of the world's oceans. They seem to prefer coastal habitats, but often frequent inland water bodies and will travel hundreds of miles out to sea.
The largest of all hard-shelled turtles – leatherbacks are bigger but have soft shells – loggerheads have massive heads, strong jaws, and a reddish-brown shell, or carapace. Adult males reach almost one metre in shell length and weigh about 113 kilograms, but large specimens of more than 454 kilograms have been found.
They are primarily carnivores, munching jellyfish, conchs, crabs, and even fish, but will eat seaweed and sargassum occasionally.
Mature females will often return, sometimes over thousands of miles, to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. Worldwide population numbers are unknown, but scientists studying nesting populations are seeing marked decreases despite endangered species protections.