How Do Sea Turtles Communicate? (Can They Communicate?)

Sea turtles don’t seem to be the noisiest aquatic animals, unlike whales or seals. However, what most people don’t know is that sea turtles can communicate audibly and physically with other turtles from a young age!

Although sea turtles have existed for some 120 million years, scientific research about their communicative ways only started in 1999. This is because in the 1950s, sea turtles were said to be deaf, and so communication was unnecessary. Truth is, sea turtles can communicate very well with other turtles. 

It’s not all about making noises to one another. Almost all sea turtle species have adapted their own ways of communication, through audible and physical actions.

Sure, sea turtles aren’t the most loquacious of animals, but that doesn’t mean they ignore each other completely. Here is a guide to how sea turtles communicate!

So, do sea turtles talk to each other?

Not exactly. They’re not the noisiest of animals, because sea turtles – like most reptiles – don’t possess vocal cords. Their ears are also internal, so it can be a bit confusing figuring out how on earth they can “talk” to each other. It is because of their internal ears that scientists used to think that sea turtles are deaf. 

Once sea turtles have fully grown, they are mostly solitary animals that don’t have a need for communication. Most of their communication occurs when they are hatchlings. 

How do hatchlings communicate?

Ever wondered how hatchlings know how to hatch and make their way to the sea at the same time? Here’s the answer! 

Scientific research has suggested that hatchlings make noises in their shells before they hatch. These noises are described as clicks, chirps, clucks, and grunts. It can be assumed that the reason they make these noises is to communicate with one another to hatch around the same time.

Then, they make their way to the ocean together. The reason they do this is that predators are less likely to pick off the stragglers when they go together as a group. 

This can also explain why there are often premature hatchlings at the bottom of the nest. These hatchlings are likely to have heard their sibling’s noises and hatched far too early. 

However, once they are out in the ocean with multiple threats from predators, they’re kind of on their own. 

How do adult sea turtles communicate?

Like we said, adult sea turtles are mostly solitary animals that don’t have a need for communicating with other turtles unlike when they are hatchlings. However, it has been documented that female sea turtles (specifically Leatherbacks) make sounds with other females during the nesting season. 

The noises documented include grunting, breathing, and pumps. These sounds haven’t been documented with other sea turtles, so it is suggested that these are the normal sounds a female turtle makes during the hatching season – from laying the eggs to camouflaging the nest. 

The noises made by sea turtles are so quiet and so low frequency that a special device is required to document it. 

Are sea turtles deaf?

So, if sea turtles have internal ears, does that mean they are deaf? 

Technically, no. Just because their ears aren’t external, remember that they don’t possess vocal cords in the first place, so they don’t need to listen out for anything. Instead, they “listen” through vibrations. 

The ability to sense vibrations is how turtles can communicate with one another. The same goes for most reptiles – especially snakes, where hearing is their poorest sense.

As scientists have suggested that females make noises during the hatching process, we can assume that they are communicating with their babies and other female turtles through sensing vibrations. 

However, just because they predominantly rely on sensing vibrations doesn’t mean they can’t hear anything. Scientists have proven that turtles can hear super low frequencies between 200 and 750 Hz, which is most likely their most common form of hearing and communication. 

Physical Communication

Physical communication plays a huge role in the mating process between sea turtles. As they can’t exactly flirt audibly with each other, they use nonverbal communication. 

Male turtles usually bite a female turtle’s neck and play with her flippers (gently, of course). If the female turns or swims away, that is her way of saying “no”.

If the female doesn’t turn or swim away, the male understands this as consent. The male turtle will then mount the female’s shell, gripping on to it with their long, sharp claws. 

There have been reports of turtles using blinking and water to their advantage when communicating. It has been suggested that turtles will squirt water at each other playfully – especially during the mating season. Excessive blinking is like the turtle’s version of winking or batting their eyelashes. 

Male turtles can also get competitive. If a male turtle sees a male turtle who is attempting to mate with the female they like, nothing will stop them from biting their tail or flippers to try and dismount him. 

This leads us to the next point: aggression. Sea turtles aren’t generally aggressive animals to humans, but if they’re feeling threatened, they will make grunting noises and nonverbal communicative actions.

If they are approached by a diver, for example, they can make disgruntled noises and will attempt to swim away or even bite hands. Leatherback turtles are the most common sea turtle species for making audible grunts at humans in the wild. 

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it! Sea turtles can communicate with one another, just not in the ways you would expect. Due to their lack of vocal cords and their internal ears, sea turtles have found other ways to communicate.

As scientists have only recently discovered that sea turtles aren’t deaf, there is still a bountiful amount of research still being conducted to this day to discover how much turtles communicate. 

It has been suggested (and proven) that sea turtles mostly communicate through nonverbal actions, especially during the mating season. As they are predominantly solitary animals, however, their need for communication is limited.