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Sea Turtle Identification

If you see a turtle on the beach you may want to know what kind of turtle you found. There are five species of sea turtles that visit the Outer Banks: Loggerhead – most common, Green – common especially as juveniles, Kemp’s Ridley – common as juveniles, Hawksbill – very rare, Leatherback – uncommon especially nearshore. If you see a turtle on the beach most likely it is a Loggerhead.

Four of the species above have a hard outer shell with either 4 or 5 visible shells plates or lateral scutes on their back.


If you find five lateral scutes the turtle is either a Loggerhead or a Kemps Ridley

 Loggerhead TurtleLoggerhead at a glance

  • Has an egg shaped shell
  • Tan/blonde skin hue
  • Has a proportionally large head
  • Stranded turtles tend to be > 55 cm in length

kemps-identifyKemp’s Ridley at a glance

  • Has a round shaped shell (length and width are similar)
  • Dull grayish/green/brown shell
  • Stranded turtles tend to be < 55 cm in length

Green and hawksbill turtles have 4 lateral scutes

 greens-identifyGreens at a glance

  • Shell varies in browns, and appears marbled with sunburst rays in each scute.
  • Scutes do not overlap.
  • Underside is creamy white
  • Have flat face and serrated lower jaw.

hawksbill-identifyHawksbill at a glance

  • Shell is yellowish brown with a marbled tortoise-shell pattern. Scutes appear ragged.
  • Scutes overlap
  • Heads are slender with bird-like beak.

The only sea turtle found on the Outer Banks that does not have a hard shell with scutes is the Leatherback as shown below.