There is a video going round of two guys flipping a sea turtle that had ended up on its back so it could get back into the water.

How would a sea turtle end up on its back in the first place (it sure doesn't seem that the turtle would do that on purpose)?

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    A really, really good friend told it an incredibly hilarious joke - it just couldn't stop from rolling over laughing. As truly good friends do, they found the situation so funny they needed to walk away to observe from a distance how the situation would evolve.
    – imsodin
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 15:32
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    A wave could have tipped it when the tide was higher. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 16:33
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    @imsodin It probably started with "Hold my seaweed and watch this!" Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 16:46
  • And if you're not helping the turtle flip back over, you might be a replicant. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


There are a few possibilities:

Other Turtles

This site about pet turtles mentions the possibility that turtles fighting over a mate (or actually mating) may end up on their backs.

When breeding season comes around, adult male turtles might start fighting over the females. A stronger male might flip a weaker one over. Male turtles might also harass female turtles, attempting to breed. Females can become flipped over and injured. Male turtles can also fall onto their backs after mating.


As Sue says in the comments (and backed up here) fluid in the lungs due to respiratory illness may cause them to tip if they're submerged. A flipped turtle could then be washed ashore and remain upside down.

This brings me to another possibility:


As waves come to shore, the water molecules in those waves are spinning in a circular motion. With large waves, this is often enough to flip things over (surfboards and people on surfboards are the most common examples).

The part of the object closest to the approaching wave gets lifted first and thrown over, if the wave is steep enough. Breaking waves are exactly this phenomenon--the top of the wave is steep enough that the circularly moving water gets "thrown" forward and over itself. Waves usually break near shore--hence the turtle on the beach.

Also, it's worth noting that there's no reason the turtle would only flip 180 degrees. In all likelihood, half the turtles landing on the beach are right side up, and they just walk (?) away.


In the interest of being exhaustive about the possibilities, I want to mention that there are people who may think it's funny to flip a turtle on its back. I hope that wasn't the case here, but worth mentioning.

  • Hi! This is interesting! Do you have a source that waves are causal? If so, would you add it, so I can learn more? You clearly said "most likely" so I don't think you're misleading. It could be 100% true but my preliminary scientific research about doesn't say it! I hope I haven't bothered you! I'd just appreciate any help I can get! Thanks! Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:11
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    Part of my interest is that we had a pet aquatic turtle in an aquarium who got pneumonia. The heavy fluid in one of his lungs caused him to tip. We gave IV fluids and other treatments but he passed away. I don't know if this happens with larger aquatic species. Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:16
  • Very good points. In short: I don't have a source, but I think it's a possible explanation. Perhaps not most likely though! I've edited to include other potential reasons, with citations (and hopefully enough credit to you!).
    – jhch
    Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:27
  • This is great, thanks! Thanks for the extra work! I didn't need credit at all, you're very kind!! Commented Jul 3, 2019 at 20:44
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    Note that "turtles fighting" is only true for terrestial turtles (most commonly known as tortoises) and some marshland species that spend time out of water. Most terrapins fight by biting and scratching (no ramming involved and its mostly underwater) and male sea-turtles never leave the water so would not suffer from being flipped over. My guess in this case is a combination of illness and being caught in the surf.
    – Borgh
    Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 8:33

In addition to the reasons given in @John Hughes answer, Predators may be another cause.

This SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment page on the longevity and causes of death of sea turtles lists tiger sharks and killer whales (orcas) as the main predators of adult turtles.

This YouTube video (also featured, with additional notes, in this LiveScience.com article) shows an orca "playing" with a sea turtle, and this video shows one being repeatedly tossed into the air. This video shows a tiger shark and a turtle in very shallow water (with the turtle getting it's own back at 01:55).

Although none of the videos actually show a turtle being beached (and I haven't found one that does), the tiger shark video is in very shallow water, and killer whales are known to prey right up to (and on to!) beaches (see this video of one attacking seals that are on the beach), so it certainly seems possible that either predator could – presumably accidentally – flip a turtle from the shallows to the beach and for the turtle to land on its back.

Sea Turtle tossed by Killer Whale

Source: partial screen-grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USaqTbWbeII

Killer Whale attacking seals on beach

Source: partial screen-grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtF3FPyRVIw

Turtle attacking tiger shark

Source: partial screen-grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUgq-ffRJFw

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    "This SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment page on the longevity and causes of death of sea turtles lists tiger sharks and killer whales (orcas) as the main prey of adult turtles." - Although the thought of a turtle hunting a killer whale is amusing, I'm pretty sure you meant to write predator instead of prey.
    – R. Schmitz
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 9:42
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    Thanks - fixed. I think I was thinking "main [creatures that] prey on adult turtles" but have switched to predator for clarity.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 9:49

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