Untamed Lowcountry

It’s twins ... or is it? Double-headed sea turtle hatches on Hilton Head Island beach

Is it twins?

A double-header?

Or just a bizarre phenomenon?

A Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling on Hilton Head Island on Wednesday came out of the nest with two heads, according to a Facebook post by the Hilton Head Island Turtle Patrol and the group’s leader, marine biologist Amber Kuehn.

The turtle hatched on the beach and was alive when turtle patrol volunteers released it into the ocean, the post said.

The double-headed turtle, dubbed Squirt and Crush by the Turtle Patrol, is the result of a genetic mutation, Kuehn said. Although bicephalic hatchlings are more common in other reptile species than in sea turtles, she said she’s seen these types of mutations before on Hilton Head.

“It’s not common, but it’s not anything to raise a red flag about,” she said.

Sea turtle x 2.jpg
Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Patrol Special to The Island Packet

This type of mutation is not usually a result of environmental issues such as temperature or human disturbance, but rather random genetic occurrences, Kuehn said.

The Sea Turtle Patrol’s names for the turtle, Squirt and Crush, come from two turtle characters in the Disney/Pixar movie “Finding Nemo.”

Will it live?

Although the turtle was alive this morning, it’s likely not to be viable very long.

“It couldn’t really swim,” Kuehn said. “One head governed one side (of the turtle’s body) on the front, and other head governed the other flipper. They weren’t working together.”

Other two-headed turtles have been recorded around the country in recent years.

In 2017, a two-headed hatchling was found alive left behind in its nest in Florida, National Geographic reported.

In 2013, a two-headed Texas River Cooter hatched in the San Antonio zoo. The turtle was named Thelma and Louise, and it died after one year due to unknown causes, according to National Geographic.

Sea turtle efforts on Hilton Head Island

The rare hatchling comes as sea turtle advocates push for stricter beach laws to protect the species.

Hilton Head’s Town Council will vote on an ordinance next month that would ban holes larger than one cubic foot and shovels over 14 inches long. Those measures are to prevent injuries to people walking the beach and to stop unfilled holes from becoming graves for hatchlings trying to make their way to sea.

Also in the works are discussions between the town and major beachfront resorts to reduce the number of towels left on the beach — which often pile up after hours.

Sea turtle season on the island runs from May 1 to Oct. 31, where the nesting and hatching on the island is in full swing.

Here are some things you can do to make the beaches safer for the tiny turtles:

  • Fill in your holes on the beach and bring in beach toys at the end of the day.
  • Turn out your lights! Don’t use white flashlights on the beach and draw your blinds if your windows face the beach.
  • Pack in, pack out: Take all your chairs, towels and trash with you when you leave the beach.
Small sea turtles make their way to the ocean on Hilton Head Island. Town of Hilton Head Island
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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.