Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
 
 
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Creature Feature


Green Sea Turtle

Acting as an ambassador for ocean conservation and ecotourism, the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) has swum its way into the hearts of millions of people.  Because of its historical use as food and consumer goods, it was one of the first marine turtles to be studied for migration patterns and conservation due to overharvesting.  Now, the green sea turtle is protected in many areas.  These animals are not only a major draw for tourists to tropical locations, but also pepper our popular culture from “Crush” in Disney’s Finding Nemo to the various representations of the Hawaiian “Honu” decals stuck on car windows.

The green sea turtle is found mostly in tropical waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  It gets its name not from the color of the shell, but from the color of the fat underneath the shell.  They can grow to 5-feet long, weigh upwards of 700 lbs. and are the largest of the hard-shell sea turtles.  They reach maturity between 20-50 years of age and could possibly live to be 100, though scientists are unsure of the exact life span.  

Green turtles are known for their long-distance migrations from feeding grounds to nesting areas.  These treks can sometimes be over 1,000 miles to reach the same natal beach where the female was born.  Females nest only at night, emerging from the surf to pull themselves to the upper portion of the beach, where they dig a pit a little bigger than their bodies and lay 50-140 ping-pong-ball sized eggs.  Females do not mate every year.  Sometimes mating only occurs once every 4 years.  When she does mate, she can lay 1-8 clutches of eggs in a breeding season, following the lunar cycle, returning in 10 days or so to make a new nest.

The nest incubates for two months, after which the 1-1/2 inch-long, 1-ounce baby turtles work together to dig their way out and head to the ocean.  The turtles follow the brightest horizon and hopefully head into the ocean escaping birds, crabs and predatory fish.  They remain in the open ocean for several years, feeding on plants and animals.  The green turtles eventually return to coastal, shallow water and, with the exception of their nesting and mating migration, spend the rest of their lives feeding on the abundant sea grass and algae. The main predators for adult green sea turtles are tiger sharks and humans.

Although green sea turtles still face threats of global climate change, human encroachment on their nesting areas, being harvested for food, ingesting and entangling in marine debris and as bycatch, populations worldwide are starting to make a comeback.  After being listed on the endangered species list in 1978, there seems to have been a value shift in many parts of the world from consumption and exploitation to protection and conservation.

Will we ever have the chance of seeing a wild green sea turtle off the coast of Los Angeles?  Oddly enough, yes.  About a mile from the ocean, in the warmwater discharge of a Long Beach power plant, lives a population of at least twelve green sea turtles.  Are these turtles part of a more intricate migration and population dynamic?  Did they swim off course and decide to stay?  We don’t know. Either way, head down to the banks of the San Gabriel River to witness this ambassador of ocean conservation in our own backyard.


- Jim DePompei, CMA Aquarium Educator

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Southern California Species

The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is home to more than 200 species of animals that live in and around the waters of Southern California. Do you have a question about these and other Southern California species? Ask a Biologist.


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Haliotis sp.

Young abalone with a shell size of less than 3 cm take shelter within the spines of sea urchins for protection.

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Balanus spp.

Barnacles are hermaphroditic (they have both female and male sex organs).

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Cetorhinus maximus

The basking shark is the second largest species of fish in the world.

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Asterina miniata

When two bat stars bump into each other they begin a slow-motion “arm wrestling” match. Each sea star tries to get its arm on top of the other’s arm.

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Nycticorax nycticorax

Black-crowned night herons feed at night in the same areas that other heron species feed in the day.

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Prionace glauca

The blue shark has one of the largest ranges of all species of sharks.

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Balaenoptera musculus

The blue whale is the largest living animal.

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Lythrypnus dalli

These peaceful fish are often territorial with members of their own species.

Bottlenose Dolphin   Arrow
Tursiops truncatus

The bottlenose dolphin uses echolocation to find its prey.

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Pelecanus occidentalis

The brown pelican is the smallest of all pelicans and is the only one that plunges from the air into the water to catch its food.

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Aplysia californica

Each Sea hare may lay up to eighty million eggs. However, most of the eggs are eaten by predators.

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Leuresthes tenuis

Unlike other fish, grunion come completely out of the water to lay their eggs in the sand.

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Paralichthys californicus

The California halibut is a flatfish with both eyes on one side of its head!

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Mytilus californianus

While feeding, a mussel filters 2 to 3 quarts of water per hour.

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Zalophus californianus

Sea lions use their long front flippers to steer and propel themselves through the water.

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Semicossyphus pulcher

All sheephead fish are born as females.

California Skate   Arrow
Raja inornata

The California Skate has a skeleton made completely out of cartilage.

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Panulirus interruptus

California Lobsters do not have front claws.

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Alopias vulpinus

The common thresher shark uses its long tail in a whip-like fashion to deliver incapacitating blows to its prey.

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Phronima sedentaria

The eyes of this amphipod are so large that they make up nearly a quarter of the entire body.

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Aequorea victoria

Crystal jellies can expand their mouth to eat prey half their size!

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Zostera marina

Eel grass is a true plant (not a seaweed) and is one of the few flowering plants that grow in the ocean.

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Uca crenulata

Males have a large claw that they wave back and forth like a fiddler.

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Hypsypops rubicundus

Garibaldi is the California State marine fish.

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Hypsypops rubicundus

Garibaldi is the California State marine fish.

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Macrocystis pyrifera

Under ideal conditions, giant kelp can grow about two feet a day.

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Heterostichus rostratus

The giant kelpfish can quickly change color during courtship or territorial displays.

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Stereolepis gigas

This fish is huge, growing over 7.5 feet long and weighing over 500 pounds.

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Pollicipes polymerus

Gooseneck barnacles can live 20 years, or more.

Gray Whale   Arrow
Eschrichtius robustus

The gray whale is a baleen whale.

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Carcharodon carcharias

The great white shark is capable of explosive bursts of speed and has been known to jump 3 meters (10 feet) out of the water.

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Anthopleura xanthogrammica

Some fishes develop resistance to the green anemone's sting by covering themselves with mucus.

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Pagurus sp.

Hermit crabs protect their rear ends by hiding it in a snail shell.

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Heterodontus francisci

The female horn shark lays a distinctive spiral-shaped egg case.

Humpback Whale   Arrow
Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale has distinct patterns on the tail flukes used to identify individuals.

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Paralabrax clathratus

Kelp bass reproduce by spawning (release egg and sperm into the water column) and form large aggregations in the summer months.

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Orcinus orca

The killer whale, as known as the orca, is the largest dolphin.

Krill   Arrow
Krill  

Thysanoessa spinifera

Krill are eaten by whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish.

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Phoebastria immutabilis

The wings of a laysan albatross are adapted to lock open into a wingspan of nearly seven feet.

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Triakis semifasciata

Leopard sharks are bottom feeders and are named because of their stripes.

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Hemisquilla ensigera

Mantis shrimp are not true shrimp, but get their name because of their appearance.

Marbled Godwit   Arrow
Limosa fedoa

The marbled godwit has a long, slightly upturned bill with a dark tip and pinkish base.

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Loxorhynchus crispatus

The masking crab decorates itself with bits of algae, sponges and bryozoans.

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Gymnothorax mordax

This eel's favorite prey is the octopus.

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Norrisia norrisi

These snails travel up and down kelp every day.

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Pisaster ochraceous

These sea stars are able to digest their prey outside of their bodies.

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Squatina californica

The Pacific angel shark superficially looks like a ray, but is a true shark.

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Eptatretus stoutii

Hagfish are considered to be the most primitive species of all living fish.

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Scomber japonicus

The Pacific mackerel is also known as the chub mackerel or blue mackerel.

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Sardinops sagax

The Pacific sardine form large schools of up to 10 million fish.

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Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

Sea urchins have tube feet, which they use for attachment, locomotion and feeding.

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Salema  

Xenistius californiensis

These fish have an up-turned mouth to better eat plankton.

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Dendraster excentricus

You can't spend these dollars, they are relatives to sea stars.

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Renilla koellikeri

A sea pansy is not a flower, but is an animal that is related to sea jellies.

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Isurus oxyrinchus

The shortfin mako shark is able to elevate its body temperature almost 20°F above the surrounding water.

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Enhydra lutris nereis

Sea otters do not have blubber to keep warm, instead they have very dense fur (up to one million hairs per square inch).

Sperm Whale   Arrow
Physeter macrocephalus

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and the largest toothed predator.

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Pachygrapsus crassipes

The striped shore crab spends at least half its time on land, but submerges at times to wet its gills.

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Cephaloscyllium ventriosum

When stressed, the swell shark can “swell” by inflating its stomach by swallowing water.

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Octopus bimaculoides

Octopus are very smart and have well-developed eyes.

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Larus occidentalis

The Western gull typically lives about 15 years, but can live to at least 25 years.

Whale Barnacle   Arrow
Cryptolepas rhachianecti

Whale barnacles live attached to the skin of whales.

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Tringa semipalmata

The willet is very territorial and will aggressively defend their nesting and feeding territory.

 

Creature Feature Archive


      5/17/2013 Killer Whale (Featured)
      3/31/2013 Cowcod
      2/15/2013 Crystal Jelly
      11/1/2012 Risso's dolphin
      9/6/2012 Lacy Crust Bryozoan
      8/16/2012 California sheephead
      7/31/2012 Chitons
      7/17/2012 Splitnose rockfish
      2/28/2012 Green Sea Turtle
      12/26/2011 Gray Whales
      11/16/2011 California Brown Pelican
      8/23/2011 Oarfish
      2/21/2011 Pacific Mackerel
      6/28/2010 Football Fish
      3/3/2010 Grunion
      1/12/2010 E. coli, Oh My!
      7/22/2009 Cabrillo's Fossils
      3/9/2009 Garibaldi
      11/3/2008 Laysan Albatross
   
 
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