Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Ecology of Cape Hatteras National Seashore

A variety of different animals make their home or seek rest on Cape Hatteras National Seashore throughout the year.

When ocean temperatures are low, you many come across seals resting on the shore during their travels up the coast. Offshore, dolphins and whales may be seen. The waters and beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore also provides important habitat for several different types of sea turtles: the leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, loggerhead and green.

Female loggerhead, regularly nest on the beaches of the Outer Banks; more occasionally, green, leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley turtles will also lay their eggs on the beaches. Generally, loggerhead turtles lay their eggs at night between May and September. Each nest generally holds 100 eggs, and the gender of the baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand. Cool sand leads to male turtles, and warmer sand leads to female turtles. Being the northern end of the North-Atlantic subpopulation (which runs from the Florida/Georgia border to Virginia), the Outer Banks produces a large portion of the male turtles. While incubating and when freshly hatched, baby sea turtles are highly vulnerable. Adult sea turtles are threatened by the loss of habitat, being hit by boats, entanglement in fishing gear, and pollution. Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides important habitat and protection for these threatened and endangered species.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is also a critical habitat for a variety of different types of beach-nesting birds, especially in the summer months. Beach-nesting birds fall into one of two categories: colonial nesters or solitary nesters. Colonial nesting birds, like the least tern, common tern, gull-billed tern, and black skimmer, find safety from predators in numbers. Solitary nesters, including the American oystercatcher and the piping plover, are territorial over their nesting grounds and require sufficient space to breed successfully.

Green Sea Turtle in the sand
Green sea turtle.  NPS
Piping Plover in the sand
Piping plover. NPS