In the spring and summer, Hawaii Marine Animal Response is used to getting calls about turtles in distress.
That’s because around this time of year turtles on Hawaii’s beaches appear to be in deep trouble, with what looks like blood pouring out of their mouths. For the most part, as grave as the situation appears, these turtles are totally fine.
Rest assured, it’s not blood coming out of their mouths.
After receiving more calls on the matter, a field response manager at Hawaii Marine Animal Response named Nico Lopez published a post on Facebook describing what’s going on.
Nico’s post went viral. People were simply in shock and had no idea this happened. While the photo is far from pretty, in fact it’s quite frightening, it’s completely normal. Here’s what’s going on…
Hawaiian green sea turtles don’t have teeth to help them eat and break down food. Instead, they rely on their esophagus to break down food. In the process, they consume a lot of sea water, which must be regurgitated.
While this normally results in clear fluids coming out of their mouths, this changes in the spring and summer when red limu blooms are consumed in large quantities by green sea turtles.
As a result, when they regurgitate all of that excess sea water, it is dyed red from the red seaweed. Hence, why concerned people think it’s blood.
“Now depending on how long the Limu sits in the stomach determines how dark the sea water gets. When the Honu is ready to expel the sea water from its stomach the papillae located in the Honu’s esophagus keeps the limu from being regurgitated as it spits up all the sea water in its stomach,” Lopez wrote via Facebook.
“This is why you find Honu basking in Hawaii with a pool of red liquid under its head or red liquid coming from its mouth with no injuries visible.” He adds: “It is just removing the ocean from its stomach.”
Over the past few weeks, Jon Gelman, President of Hawaii Marine Animal Response, said they have received at least four calls to their hotline with people expressing concern over sea turtles who appear to be throwing up blood.
Even if it sounds like the sea turtle is okay, response team members always go to check on the turtles, just in case.
Most of the time the sea turtles are not dying. Instead, they are simply regurgitating red-stained sea water.
The organization still appreciates calls about sea turtles in distress. Lopez explains the importance of calling them if the turtle appears to be in distress, has visible injuries or fishing gear attached to it.
Last year, the hotline received around 3,700 calls.
If you see a sea turtle in distress, you can reach the hotline by calling 1-888-256-9840 or report it online here.
9 Fun Facts About Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtles:
The Honu doesn’t earn its name from the color of its shell, which is often shades of brown, black, dark olive, or gray. Instead, its name comes from the color of its skin, or rather, the color of its subdermal, the body fat beneath its skin.
Adult Honus are herbivores but baby Honus are omnivores, dining on crustaceans, worms, insects, sea grasses and more.
While the average Honu measures around three to four feet, they weigh over 300-350 pounds.
They live a really long time! There are documented cases of green sea turtles living to be well over 100 years old.
Unlike their smaller freshwater peers, the sea turtle cannot retract its head into its shell.
The greatest threat to the Honu are large sharks, in particular tiger sharks. Sadly, in close second is human involvement such as poaching, entanglement in fishing gear, plastic ingestion, and coastal development.
Honus will travel remarkable distances to reach their preferred breeding site. They’ve been known to travel across entire oceans. The females emerge from the water to lay their eggs, so if you see them on the beach make sure to give them plenty of space.
They spend the majority of their lives in the ocean. Hatchlings rarely make it into their reproductive years, and so many only touch land once – while making the mad dash to the ocean after hatching on shore.
Honus have been documented in over 80 countries. In the US, they are found in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and along Florida’s east coast.