Sea turtles are aquatic reptiles and as such, they must be able to hold their breath for a long time. These marine turtles have evolved to thrive in their aquatic environment. This should allow the turtle to go about their daily routine of foraging and sleeping.
Imagine how difficult it will be for the turtle if it has to come up to breathe every few minutes. So how long can sea turtles hold their breath?
On average, sea turtles should be able to hold their breath for about 45 minutes when going about their normal daily routine of foraging. The activity level of the sea turtle during foraging affects how long it can hold its breath. When sleeping or hibernating the sea turtle should be able to hold its breath for several hours – from 2 to 7 hours.
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Adaptations that allow sea turtles to hold their breath for extended periods
There are seven sea turtles still in existence. Each of these sea turtle species, from the green turtle to the hawksbill, has its unique adaptations.
These include the olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley, Australian flatback, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles. although several are critically endangered, these seven species still exist in our oceans.
These turtles are good at holding their breath. This is thanks to adaptations that allow them to hold their breath.
Of course, they must be able to hold their breath as this allows them to sleep underwater as well as go about their normal daily routine.
Large powerful lungs – Sea turtles have large lungs relative to their body mass. This allows them to store more air in their lungs. This allows them to hold their breath longer than other reptiles.
Cloacal respiration – This is the ability of the sea turtle to respire through its cloaca. To put it in layman’s terms, the sea turtle can breathe through its butt. This is because of the concentration of blood vessels located in their cloaca. This allows for gaseous exchange underwater. This exchange is crucial not only for oxygen absorption but also for expelling carbon dioxide. They have specialized muscles that push water in and out of the carapace allowing the gaseous exchange.
Low metabolic rate – The turtle can lower their metabolic rate when they are relaxed or sleeping. Their metabolic can drop to drastically low levels. This allows the turtle to use less oxygen and hold its breath longer.
The Length of Time That The Sea Turtle Can Hold Its Breath During Its Normal Routine
According to Olive Ridley Project, a sea turtle can hold its breath for up to 45 minutes to an hour during its normal routine however, they normally resurface every 5 minutes to breathe a few seconds before diving back into the sea.
Turtles do not normally hold their breath until they are at their limit before resurfacing to breathe. For example, although most humans can hold their breath for up to a minute we do not do this.
When stressed, a turtle will burn through the oxygen in its body pretty fast. As such, it needs to resurface quickly if it doesn’t want to drown.
A sea turtle trapped in fishing gear like fishing nets for example can drown within a few minutes if it is unable to escape.
The Length of Time That The Sea Turtle Can Hold Its Breath During Its Normal Routine When Sleeping
When sleeping a sea turtle can hold its breath for much longer. A sea turtle should be able to sleep for four to seven hours before it needs to resurface for air.
The chelonian can hold its breath for an extended period of time because of the drastic fall in its metabolic rate. This means that it doesn’t need to use as much oxygen as it would if it were going about its normal routine.
Additionally, the heart rate of sea turtles significantly drops during these periods, further reducing oxygen consumption. Similarly, their body temperature adjusts to the surrounding water, aiding in prolonged breath-holding.
The Length of Time That The Sea Turtle Can Hold Its Breath During Its Normal Routine When Hibernating
There is little information on hibernating sea turtles. This is normal as sea turtles haven’t been as extensively studied as other animals.
However, today we know that turtles can spend up to 7 hours underwater when hibernating. This information comes from data taken of a loggerhead turtle overwintering in Greek waters. This is based on papers that appeared in the National Library of Medicine.
Unlike some freshwater turtles, sea turtles cannot hibernate underwater. They have to resurface every few hours to breathe which will also be impacted by water temperature. Particularly in cold water, sea turtles can sustain longer dives due to reduced metabolic demand.
These turtles only resurface for a few minutes. As such we can say that the hibernation dives are aerobic.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a giant sea turtle hold its breath?
Among marine turtles, leatherback sea turtles are giants, capable of reaching a weight of up to 2000 pounds. Even the smallest sea turtles which are the ridley turtles can reach a weight of 66 to 110 pounds.
Larger turtles such as the leatherback turtle and the loggerhead can hold their breath for as long as 7 hours. Loggerhead turtles, in particular, is known for its impressive breath-holding capability. As mentioned earlier, a loggerhead in Greek waters was recorded holding its breath for 7 hours.
However, these giant sea turtles only hold their breath for a few minutes before they resurface to breathe. When sleeping, these chelonians will hold their breath for a few hours.
How long can sea turtles live?
Sea turtles can live long lives. The ridley turtles can live up to 50 years. From the time they are baby turtles, their respiratory system is adapted to their marine life.
The hawksbill sea turtle also lives to be 50 years old. The green turtle can obtain a lifespan of 75 years. The flatback has a lifespan of 100 years.
The leatherback can live to be 50 years or more.
Why can sea turtles hold their breath for so long?
There are several reasons why a sea turtle can hold its breath for so long.
Sea turtles are aquatic so it makes sense that they can hold their breath for so long. Even so, they occasionally ascend to the ocean surface for air and environmental awareness. There is real science behind this ability.
For starters, sea turtles have large lungs which are also quite powerful. This allows the turtle to make effective use of the air it breathes in.
Also, the oxygen affinity of sea turtle blood may allow the sea turtle to better and more efficiently use the lu lung oxygen store.
The sea turtle is also able to reduce its metabolism when sleeping or resting allowing the turtle to use less oxygen. Sea turtles can efficiently regulate their oxygen levels even when diving deep or sleeping. This helps the species to hold their breath for longer periods.
Can sea turtles breathe underwater?
Sea turtles like other reptiles cannot breathe underwater.
This unique adaptation is not common in most land turtles but is a key feature in aquatic turtles (marine turtles) like sea turtles. The concentration of blood vessels located in their cloaca allows for gaseous exchange in water.
How long can turtles hold their breath?
Sea turtles can hold their breath for 4 to 7 hours when hibernating or sleeping. When going about their normal routine, the sea turtle can hold its breath for about 45 to 60 minutes.
However, a sea turtle will hold its breath for just a few minutes before resurfacing to breathe although it can hold its breath for longer.
How long do sea turtles sleep?
A sea turtle can sleep for 4 to 7 hours before it needs to resurface to breathe.
Expect the sea turtle to sleep for a couple of hours before resurfacing to breathe. In a day, a sea turtle typically sleeps for 11 hours according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
How long can green sea turtles hold their breath?
Green turtles similar to other sea turtles can hold their breath for 45 to 60 minutes during their normal routine. They can hold their breath for longer when resting, which typically lasts around 4 to 7 hours.
As aquatic reptiles, sea turtles are perfectly adapted to hold their breath for long periods. These turtles are capable of holding their breath for as long as 7 hours. This capability is especially beneficial in deep water where surfacing frequently is not feasible.
This is however only possible when they are sleeping or hibernating. In this state, their metabolism rate is low and they burn less oxygen.
On average, the sea turtle can hold its breath for about 45 minutes. This is when the turtle is going about its normal routine of foraging for food.
When sleeping, the chelonian can hold its breath for several hours. This ability to hold their breath for long periods is crucial for their survival. When hibernating, the sea turtle can even hold its breath for 7 hours.
Regardless of the level of activity, the turtle is in, it can hold its breath for an extended period.