A two-headed turtle hatchling was sighted emerging from a green turtle nest on a small island off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia.
This very rare hatchling is one of a batch of 93 hatchlings that emerged at the Mabul Turtle Hatchery, this one being the only one with two heads.
The hatchery is ran by Scuba Junkie SEAS, the conservation arm of dive operator, Scuba Junkie.
The 92 normal one-headed hatchlings were released into the wild from the beach in front of the resort, while this one was kept for observation and further study.
The condition is known as dicephalism and can be seen in a wide variety of species, despite it being very rare.
Scuba Junkie SEAS, shared in a Facebook post:
“After consultation with the Sabah Wildlife Department HQ and vets from the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit, it was decided that the hatchling should be transferred to our Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre for care and observation before any further decisions are made”
Mohd Khairuddin Riman, chairman of SJ SEAS, said that he has never came across anything like this before, having overseen 13,000 hatchlings from the hatchery.
It has been observed that both heads of this hatchling are able to breathe independently and they can react to stimuli separately.
“It is utterly fascinating. The right head seems to control the front right flipper, and the left head the front left flipper. Yet they are capable of co-ordinating their movements in order to walk and swim,” he said.
Sabah Wildlife Department’s (SWD) Wildlife Rescue Unit chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said that while dicephalism is extremely rare, there was a similar case that happened in Redang in 2014. He said:
“The hatchling was studied for three months before it sadly died of pneumonia. Unfortunately, these turtles would not survive in the wild – including this specimen, whose plastron is not fully developed or closed,”
“Observation by the biologists on site also indicated that in deeper water, one head couldn’t get above water comfortably to breathe. The hatchling is being kept in shallow water, allowing it to breathe easily.”
The hatchling is now under the watchful eye of dedicated biologists at the Mabul Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. They are doing their best to ensure the welfare of the hatchling to ensure it is comfortable and that all it’s needs are met.