A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

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Identifying California Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Conservancy
Sea Turtles Species

Identifying Terrestrial
California Turtles

observation link


This is a simple key to help you identify a sea turtle seen in California waters.

You can read more information about each turtle by clicking on the blue name links.

Five species of sea turtles have been recorded from California waters, but most people will never see one, even if they spend a lot of time on the ocean. Their occurance is irregular and often depends on years when the ocean waters are warmer than average.

Apparently, the sea turtle most commonly seen in the state is the Green Sea Turtle. Leatherbacks are sometimes seen from ocean-going fishing or wildlife-watching boats. Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Pacific Hawksbill Sea Turtles are rarely seen.

Since I do not have many good pictures of sea turtles, this identification section relies on a few pictures of some subspecies or similar species that occur in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you cannot see enough detail on the shell to use the key, try looking at the
comparison chart for all California Sea Turtles

First, look at the top of the shell

If there are dorsal ridges, the turtle is a Leatherback.

If the shell has no dorsal ridges, but has visible scales, or scutes, count the costal scales.

Count the Costal Scales

If there are 4 costal scales on the sides,
click here.

If there are 5 or more costal scales on the sides, click here.

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