How do sea turtles breathe?

Just like other reptiles, sea turtles have lungs. They have a slightly different structure than mammalian lungs, but work just as well when it comes to exchanging gases (oxygen and carbondioxide). The lungs are located right under the carapace and the vertebral column.

Ventilation of the lungs (breathing) is achieved by movements of the muscles attached to the pelvic and shoulder girdles and to the plastron. You can sometimes see turtles ‘rocking‘ their shoulders when they are not underwater; this movement of the muscle masses around the shoulder also helps them breathe by changing the pressure inside the lungs.

Sea turtle coming up to breath
Sea turtle coming up for air, Maldives.
A green turtle comes up for a breath, Maldives. Image.
A green turtle comes up for a breath, Maldives.


  • Wyneken J 2001. The Anatomy of Sea Turtles: Part II. U.S. Department of Commerce NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-470, 53-112.