turtle tale picture


A group of islanders stand at the tall cliffs overlooking the South Pacific Ocean and sing a song. And a little bit of magic happens.

The islanders, from the village of Vaitogi, in Samoa, sing some ancient words and one by one, the sea turtles in the area will come to the surface of the ocean and raise their heads from the water as if in greeting.

Those lucky enough to see this spectacle are often rewarded with the sight of sharks also coming to the water’s surface at the sounds of the ancient song/chant.

That the sharks and turtles, natural enemies, would swim alongside each other is a modern-day mystery steeped in ancient legend.

This amazing sight, now a major tourist attraction, is made all the more mysterious because the turtles and sharks never come to the surface unless the ancient song is sung by at least three islanders.

Many have tried, unsuccessfully, to entice the sea creatures to the surface by other means, giving new respect to the legend that inspired the song and the tradition.

There are different versions of the story, as is often the case with ancient legends handed down through generations.

One turtle tale involves a young couple who could not bear the thought of being separated, so threw themselves into the ocean.




The most popular version tells of an old blind woman and her granddaughter, rejected by their relatives as a burden during a long famine.

When the grandmother, Fonuea, realised the family had left her and the young girl to starve, she asked her granddaughter to take her to the edge of the cliffs. Together, they dove into the water to leave their fate with the generous sea.

They immediately turned into a shark and a turtle and swam together to many islands, where they were repeatedly rejected.

Finally, after swimming miles and miles, they came upon Vaitogi, a village on the island of Tutuila, now part of American Samoa.

They left the water and transformed themselves back into human form. The villagers greeted them with friendliness and respect, offering them food and shelter.

They were offered a permanent home in the village. However, the grandmother realised her heart was now with the sea.

She told the chief that she and her granddaughter would return to the ocean, but stay close to the island cliffs.

She gave him the words to a song and promised that she and her granddaughter would come to the surface to greet and entertain the villagers, in honour of their kindness, when the song was sung.




As with the story, the words to the song vary, depending on who you speak to.

The words pictured below were handwritten for me by a lovely Samoan lady I know.


turtle tale picture


They translate to:

Turtle leave your baby in the lagoon

So you can dance and wiggle

So we can watch.

Turtle don’t be late to hide your baby

If there is a stick bed

Bring some tea leaves for the baby turtle

Fonuea, fonuea

Bring up a beautiful turtle

But not all at once

Because you are beautiful individually

Traditionally, when the turtle and shark appear on the surface, the crowd would hail “Lalelei!” (“Beautiful!”), three times.




turtle tale picture


Aside from this turtle tale turtles feature in the folklore of most coastal cultures. This is no surprise as marine turtles have lived in the oceans for over 100 million years.

They evolved before mammals, birds, crocodiles, snakes, and lizards.

They symbolise things such as long life, wellness, fertility, union, family and harmony.

Turtles play a vital role in maintaining the health of our world’s oceans.

They transport essential nutrients from the ocean to beaches and help maintain productive coral reef ecosystems.




turtle tale picture


Pollution and changes to habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests and nesting beaches have placed all turtle in danger.

The biggest threats include entanglement in fishing gear, poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells, coastal development, plastic and other marine debris, global warming and ocean pollution.

Australia has some of the largest marine turtle nesting areas in the Indo-Pacific region and has the only nesting populations of the flatback turtle.

Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, six occur in Australian waters. They are protected by the Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and various State and Northern Territory legislation.

On the endangered list are the Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive ridley turtle and they could become extinct if threats to their survival continue.



turtle tale picture


The Green, Hawksbill and Flatback turtle are each listed as vulnerable.




These amazing creatures can live for more than 100 years. One Indian Ocean Giant Tortoise was reported to have lived more than 200 years. 

The oldest known sea turtle fossils date back about 150 million years.

Turtles live on every continent except Antarctica.

Turtles will live in almost any climate warm enough to allow them to complete their breeding cycle.

Marine turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell. Hearing and sense of touch are both good and even the shell contains nerve endings.


turtle tale picture



Leatherback sea turtles can travel more than 10,000 miles every year and can weight up to 2000 pounds.

Green sea turtles can stay underwater for up to five hours. Their heart rate slows to conserve oxygen. Up to nine minutes may elapse between heartbeats.

Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through the skin on their neck and cloacal areas allowing them to remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time and enabling them to hibernate underwater.


World Turtle Day is May 23 each year.

Its aim is to raise awareness of their plight and increase knowledge and respect for one of the earth’s oldest creatures.

How can you help? Spread the word about these beautiful creatures and how important they are to the world’s ecosystems.

If you have children in your life, let them know they can help the turtles by not littering and by reducing the amount of waste they use.

Celebrate World Turtle Day by making a fun craft project. You can find an easy project in my post, Easy Steps to Make a Terrific Turtle and her Hatchling.

Or you may want to try your hand at making this beautiful turtle planter.

Let me leave you with a question, shared by a six-year-old Samoan boy.

Q: What kind of pictures do turtles take?

A: Shelfies. 🙂

Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.



  • Tamuria,
    Excellent article and Love the Laurie there’s so much to learn and teaching children this way is brilliant. Remembering how to put in such creation is valuable for children to make their own decisions and keeps them focused. It’s a wonderful article and Love reading when I see it.

    Lori English

  • What a great story. We should all be so kind to others in need and, when someone shows us kindness, we should remember to repay them.

    • Yes, it’s a wonderful story about kindness and repaying that kindness. The fact it is still honoured and celebrated hundreds of years later is fabulous.

  • OH! I love, love, love the grandmother and her granddaughter story! What a marvelous tale. I’ll definitely be celebrating world turtle day! And will help spread the word.

    • It’s a magical tale and a great way to spread the word about these amazing creatures, their importance to the world and the dangers they are facing. Thank you for helping me spread the words, Susan.

  • wow, Tami, this is just about my favorite post of all time. I adore turtles. I dream about them and am so fascinated by them. That story was amazing and, of course, I wholeheartedly support your efforts to share about the turtles’ plight. Amazing creatures!

  • What a beautiful love letter to turtles, Tami! I love the folk lore and the stories behind this Samoan song tradition! It is simply magical to imagine that a song can bring the sea turtles to the surface! That must be so incredible to witness. I love the grandmother and granddaughter story as well!

    I keep hearing how plastic is threatening so much of the ocean’s population and I hope by raising awareness, we can stop the needless pollution of plastic brings. I have heard of an incredible invention that is finally coming into usage, that could suck up 50% of the plastics in the ocean and convert it to something else. A young 17-year-old invented it in 2008 and it is finally developed enough to be put to use! Anything that can help protect ocean wildlife is of course, supported by me. Thank you for writing such a lovely piece about turtles and encouraging us all to be more conscious of celebrating them! Especially on World Turtle Day, May 23rd.

    • I have heard about that wonderful invention that can help clean up our oceans, Beverley. So good to hear it is finally being put to use. It would be even better if there wasn’t a need for it. In the meantime, the best we can do is to continue to spread the word.

  • Thanks for sharing this great turtle magic. Thank you for sharing about the amazing turtles. My kids’ father is Samoan so I really appreciate the story behind this. Your story telling ability ROCKS. I’ll be thinking about turtles on World Turtle Day next Tuesday.

  • Turtles are such magnificent creatures! This Samoan story was such a delight to read. I love hearing stories from other cultures, and this one made my heart swell.

  • What a beautiful introduction to the Samoan culture and then educating us about turtles and pollution. You ended up with some craft projects. This is brilliant Tamuria. Looking forward to having 9 year old Gracie come to play with me. She is really bright and would love to learn more about turtles! Bless you for educating us in a fun way!

  • What beautiful and ancient animals. Many children initially learn about them from Aesop’s story of the turtle and the hare or raise them as box turtles. I love how they make themselves at home on land and the sea. Again, a beautiful and inspiring story Tami. I did not know that it was World Turtle Day on May 23rd, so thanks for letting me know how much these creatures are valued and need protecting.

    • I love that story of the tortoise and the hare, Joyce. It has such a good message about perseverance – slow and steady wins the race. They are amazing creatures and really do need our protection.

  • Such an excellent article with so much useful information. I did not know that Marine turtles have good eyesight and an excellent sense of smell and that their hearing and sense of touch are both good and even the shell contains nerve endings.

    • Glad you enjoyed this Apolline. I really like to share information about our planet’s amazing creatures in the hope we will all do a little more to save them.

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