It’s a Green! No it’s a Hawksbill! Maybe it’s both?

The turtle that we just can’t stop talking about!

We’ve had over 11,000 sea turtle releases since we started our turtle Bycatch program. Over the years, we have seen so many turtles with interesting and unique body features. A few weeks ago, we came across a juvenile turtle unlike any other we have ever rescued and released. This was because the turtle had a combination of physical characteristics which suggest that the turtle may have been a cross between a green and hawksbill turtle.

There was some debate amongst the staff and volunteers, who participated in the particular turtle rescue, on whether the turtle was a hawksbill or green. Looking at the turtle’s head, the beak closely resembled a hawksbill beak which led to one of the volunteers suggesting that it was a hawksbill turtle.

On closer inspection of the head, it was noted that the turtle had 1 pair of pre frontal scales. This observation led to even more questions regarding the species of the turtle. It should be noted that green sea turtles have 1 pair of pre frontal scales while hawksbill turtles have two pairs of pre frontal scales. The post orbital scutes or scales (immediately after the eye) were three and their pattern resembled that mostly found in hawksbill turtles. The top view of the head only intensified the debate because it looked like all other green sea turtles observed previously. So the turtle’s head had two characteristics of green sea turtles and two physical traits found in hawksbill turtles.

Everyone had genuine reasons and proof to categorise the turtle as either a green or hawksbill turtle. So, the debate shifted to the turtle’s carapace scutes pattern in an effort to settle the debate once and for all. The scutes on the carapace were partially overlapping and not fully fused together as observed in green sea turtles or clearly overlapping like in all juvenile hawksbill turtles. Thus the carapace scutes characteristics couldn’t be used to settle the debate.

The debate rages on up to date. Was it a green turtle or a hawksbill turtle? We’ve decided to call this turtle ‘Cocktail’ as it seems to be such a mixture!