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Another Reason to Hate Plastic Bags: Sea Turtles Eat Them

Another Reason to Hate Plastic Bags: Sea Turtles Eat Them

When a loggerhead sea turtle is hungry, he hunts for food that floats and billows in the water. What he’s after is a nice, tasty jellyfish. Unfortunately, what he sometimes finds is a discarded plastic bag that kinda looks like a nice, tasty jellyfish.

Eating one of those bags is more than unappetizing — it can be deadly.

They See It, They Eat It

Scientists recently discovered that loggerheads hunt primarily using their vision, rather than following scents or sounds, to a much greater extent than we previously knew. A team of scientists from the University of Tokyo, led by Dr. Tomoko Narazaki, set out to try to understand the foraging behavior of loggerhead turtles. Their findings were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Loggerhead sea turtles are the largest hard shelled sea turtle species, with adult males growing to an average of 250 lbs. with 3 foot long shells. They are carnivores, subsisting on a diet of sea creatures, such as jellyfish, conchs, crabs, mollusks, clams, squid and the occasional fish. They can live from 30 to 50 years.

The research team discovered that loggerhead foraging can be divided into distinct phases — search, assessment, pursuit and handling of prey. As they swim, loggerheads locate their prey going by what they see.

When migrating in the open sea, loggerheads tend to eat every half hour or so, probably to keep their energy levels up. At these times, they are “opportunistic foragers.” They see what they want, they swim to it and they eat it on the move.

Loggerheads often munch on gelatinous prey like jellyfish that are floating in the water. They make a perfect, easily digestible snack. Unfortunately, the turtles’ eyes may deceive them, and they can easily mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish.

Critter Cam Shows Researchers How Turtles Hunt

The study team figured all this out thanks to a turtle-mounted camera and 3D logger. They mounted National Geographic critter cams onto the backs of loggerhead turtles. The cameras, mounted just behind the turtles’ heads, allowed researchers to see the turtles’ food hunting behavior from the turtle’s point of view.

One of the videos captured by the critter cam shows a loggerhead swimming under the surface of the water. He sees a billowy floating mass and heads for it. It looks like a jellyfish, but by the time the turtle comes right up beside it, it becomes clear that it’s a plastic bag.

Luckily, the turtle realizes it’s not food and turns away. Had he eaten it, the bag might have become caught up in his intestines, possibly killing him. Even though he didn’t make that mistake, he’s wasted precious time and energy pursuing a piece of trash instead of the food he needs to sustain him as he swims.

Watch a BBC news clip about sea turtles and plastic bags here:

Certain populations of loggerheads are considered “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, while other population groups are “threatened.” They are also considered “endangered” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

The problem of marine debris is not easy to solve, and it’s only adding to the troubles that threaten the existence of sea turtles. Unfortunately, the abundance of plastic trash in the world’s oceans has become a distinct threat to many species that call the sea their home. This is yet another good reason to ditch plastic bags and switch to re-usable shopping bags instead.

Do it for the turtles.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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115 comments

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5:53AM PDT on Aug 12, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

7:07AM PDT on Aug 3, 2013

I try and find products that don't wrap their goods in plastic, but 80% of the time they are. If I have a choice between a product in a box or a plastic bag I choose the box. We are suppose to be a nation of ideas so why can't we come up with a better solution? These plastic bags are breaking down in the oceans into tiny piecies and then being eaten by fish and we eat the fish.

4:38PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

I don't hate plastic bags. I hate what people do with them. :)
I am taking my chance to say something totally different. But...I have tried twice a contact with Care2 and they answer me. My page has gone! All my pictures have gone. I wonder if anybody else is facing the same problem. They gave me another address..but without my pictures, without my texts and without my friends. I want them all back. Or at least, an explanation. If any of you lost your page was it possible to have it back? How? People from Care2, it's important to answer us!

11:30AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

I recommend watching the vimeo made by Kathy Townsend of 'Turtles In Trouble' "BrisScience: Hard to Stomach - Impact of marine debris on sea turtles"
http://vimeo.com/22632617

10:38AM PDT on Jul 26, 2013

Tks for sharing

6:45AM PDT on Jul 26, 2013

Thank you Susan, for Sharing this!

12:13PM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Plastic gorcery store bags have been nothing but troublesome since they were invented. Garbage bags are problematic enough, but they might be a more solvable problem if we weren't fighting all this other junk. We do not need a plastic bag for every purchase we make! We usually don't really need a bag at all for small purchases. Every city bus stop has waste barrels full of the same things: soft drink containers, fast food packaging and plastic bags by the dozen often containing the blister pack from a cosmetics purchase. Most of us have to admit that we've done it at least Once. You know, that job interview and "oops, I forgot my blusher!"
Yeah, but live and learn & we all try to do better. That's great, but only if we pass it on.
We've raised two generations of kids on this planet since my peer group was protesting in our middle school about pollution!
What gives?
That's over forty (40) years of apparently nobody paying attention!!!
Talk about "give me a break"!
What is so hard about using a reusable bag?
It's not a new concept. It's an old concept updated.
Dress it up or down, that's personal.
But if we all started to refuse the plastic bags, then we wouldn't be throwing them away.
Basically, there's no such thing as "Away"!

7:23AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

If you want plastic bags to be banned, please sign my petition:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/745/558/413/save-sea-turtles-reduce-plastic-bag-use/

4:29AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Typical: people chosing convenience over the right thing.

3:54AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Terrible!!! :((

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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