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Lele is a green sea turtle from Hawaii. The Hawaiian word “lele” means to jump for joy or to jump here and there. You can find the word “lele” in “ukulele,” an instrument that requires your fingers to jump around fast to play it. But that’s not the reason why we gave this turtle the name “Lele.”
Lele is the historical name for Lahaina, a seaside town known for its wealth of history, located along the west shore of the island of Maui. By 1795, the great warrior and leader Kamehameha had conquered all of the Hawaiian islands except Kauai and in 1802, he declared Lahaina (or Lele) to be the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. According to the book, Place Names of Hawaii by Mary Kawena Pukui, Lele was named as a place for “short stay of chiefs” in 1867.
Lele the turtle was sighted in Olowalu, a coastal area that is in the district of Lahaina or Lele. You can see the location where Lele was sighted on the enclosed map. This is an area where many sea turtles are found. And so now you know how Lele received its name!
Green sea turtles have the scientific name Chelonia mydas. Green sea turtles are named for the color of their body fat, which has a green tint due to the alagae that makes up the mainstay of this turtle’s diet.
Sea turtles are actually ancient reptiles whose ancestors were on earth at the time of the dinosaurs. Over millions of years, sea turtles have become well adapted to life in the ocean. For example, Lele has a hard, streamlined shell. The streamlined shape helps Lele move through the ocean quickly, propelled along by her large flippers. This turtle’s shell – or carapace – is mostly black, marked with mottled wavy rays of yellow, green, brown and white. Unlike land turtles, Lele cannot pull her head or flippers into the shell. Lele is able to swim long distances in the ocean, and to move relatively quickly, both of which are important to survival. In fact, sea turtles have been known to swim at speeds of up to 35 mph.
Like other green sea turtles, Lele must come to the surface to breathe. When green turtles are active, they breathe every few minutes. However, when the turtle is resting, it can stay underwater for as long as 2 ½ hours without breathing. How can turtles do this? They are able to retain higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in their blood and can use their oxygen very efficiently. Our researchers and naturalists often see turtles resting in caves or under lava rock ledges underwater.
The researchers who observed Lele were not able to identify if Lele is male or female. Because Hawaiian green sea turtles grow so slowly in the wild, it can take 10 and 50 years for a turtle like Lele to reach sexual maturity. Until they mature, male and female turtles are very similar. After sexual maturity, the males will have longer, thicker tails. The females will have shorter stubbier ones.
If Lele is a female, she will likely travel to the same beach on which she was born (called the “natal beach”) o lay her eggs. If Lele is a male, he may travel to the area just offshore from his nesting beach, to mate with females in the area. For the vast majority of the sea turtles in Hawaii, these nesting beaches are in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, in an area known as French Frigate Shoals – a distance of about 800 miles from where we have seen Lele off Maui.
Tiger sharks and humans are the only two known predators of sea turtles. Fortunately, laws protect Hawaii’s green sea turtles from human hunters. However, there are other human-caused threats to sea turtles, including marine debris, pollution and noise.
We thank you for adopting Lele. As we hear of future sightings, we will certainly report sightings to you, so you can continue to learn about this remarkable marine turtle.