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6 Shocking Facts About the Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtles, or the Dermochelys coriacea, also known as lute turtle or leathery turtle, or sometimes simply the luth, are the only living species in the genus Dermochelys coriacea and the family Dermochelyidae. The leatherback sea turtle species is unlike any other sea turtle species.

This post is an article on some of the best-known facts about the Leatherback Sea Turtles. So, keep reading. 

1. Leatherback Sea Turtle / Dermochelys Coriacea Is Federally Listed as An Endangered Animal

The global population of the leatherback sea turtle has declined by approximately 40% over the past three generations. Leatherback population trends have led to these marine turtles being classified as endangered under the endangered species act.

The nesting sites have drastically being impacted. For the pacific eastern sea turtle, their primary nesting occurs in the nesting beaches of Mexico and Costa Rica, and over the last three generations has declined by 90%. Hence, the pacific populations have suffered drastically.

The population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles has suffered most over the last two decades. As few as 2,300 adult females, leatherback turtles now remain on the planet, making these Pacific leatherback Sea turtles species one of the world’s most endangered marine turtle populations, compared among other sea turtle species.

The northwest Atlantic leatherback turtle nesting was increasing. Still, there has been a significant decrease on numerous Atlantic coasts like Florida, an important nesting area in the continental United States.

Facts: The Leatherback Sea Turtle

There are numerous causes of the endangered leatherback turtles’ being present—the rise in commercial fisheries poses many threats to leatherback turtles. It threatens the existence of the leatherback sea turtle population.

Fishing gear used causes entanglement of the sea turtles. The marine debris of these fishing gear also causes pollution in the aquatic habitats of the sea turtles and disturbs the nesting leatherback and egg harvesting.

Another threat is the illegal shell trade, increasing the marine debris and artificial lighting in the coastal waters.

For example, these activities cause a rise in plastics in the coastal waters, and these plastic bags floating in the sea confuse the leatherback turtles as jellyfish.

Confusing as a food of these sea turtles and this plastic consumption causes their death in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, pacific leatherbacks also face such problems as jellyfish, which leatherbacks feed, looks similar to a plastic bag.

Some human activities also directly affect humans raid the population of leatherback sea turtles like their nesting grounds for their meat; However, the flesh of this sea turtle is not eaten. These sea turtles have been threatened by egg harvesting in countries such as Malaysia, the west coast of Mexico, Costa Rica, Surinam.

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Source: Shutterstock

Leatherback sea turtles were attacked and killed in the past for the abundant oil they yielded, which was used for oil lamps and caulking wooden boats. There are also various leatherback strandings caused due to vessel strike injuries, and these incidents also negatively impact the leatherback populations.

This situation makes us aware of how important it is to conserve the nesting areas, sea turtle nesting beaches and prevent beach erosion and coastal development. Sea turtle conservation is important as the species is critically endangered.

Many conservation efforts are being taken to conserve leatherback turtles sustainably; for example, TNC is working with the U.S. Fish and wildlife service in the U.S. Virgin Islands to protect the leatherback sea turtle.

2. The Leatherback Sea Turtle Is the Largest Sea Turtle Species in The World

Among the other sea turtles, the Leatherback sea turtle is the largest sea turtle species in the world and one of the giant living reptiles on the planet; only some crocodiles surpass the leatherback turtles in reptile species.

Unlike many other sea turtles, the leatherback sea turtle’s bony shells are not very visible, but they have covered a leathery layer of brown or black skin that gives these sea turtles their unique name.

The shell has seven ridges running from their front to back, which makes the leatherback turtle one of the most unique among the sea turtles.

A leatherback turtle is the largest of the seven living sea turtle species, as the leatherback turtle grows more than 6.5 feet or two meters in length, and these leatherback turtles can weigh up to 2000 pounds or 900 kilograms.

On average, adult turtles are 3 to 4 feet in length, but the adult leatherbacks are unlike any average sea turtle and are unique, and a tiny leatherback sea turtle hatchling is 2 to 3 inches long.

Largest Sea Largest Sea Turtle! Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle!

Leatherback sea turtles have the most hydrodynamic body among all sea turtles; they have a large teardrop shapes body with a large pail of front flippers which power the turtle through the water; they have flattened fore limbs adapted to swim in the open ocean but claws a absent from both pair of flippers.

The flippers of the leatherback sea turtle are enormous in proportion to its body, among other sea turtles. The flippers of leatherback turtles can grow up to 2.7 meters in large specimens.

The leatherback turtle lacks bony carapace; they have thick, leathery skin with minuscule embedded osteoderms; this is also one of many characteristics that distinguish them from other sea turtles.

Like all the other reptiles species, the leatherbacks are cold-blooded, ectothermic, and dramatically affected by their surrounding temperatures. The leatherback has various adaptations that allow it to withstand frigid temperatures.

The leatherback population can also counter the current heat exchange system that prevents heat loss in their bodies, and their large body size helps keep their core warm. Moreover, these mechanisms keep the leatherback’s core body temperature higher than the surrounding water; these features make it unique and stand out, unlike other species.

3. The Leatherback Turtle Is One of The Most Migratory species in The World

Most sea turtles migrate between nesting and foraging goriness or between warm and cold seasons; these migratory movements often take hundreds or thousands of miles.

With the advancement of technology, scientists and researchers are now better able to track the actions of these sea turtles, which helps them analyze and give reason to the patterns of movements followed by the various species of sea turtles.

Sea turtles generally nest in tropical and subtropical beaches around the world. This nesting area is generally an area where they were born. Male sea turtles, as well as female leatherbacks, migrate to nesting areas to breed.

However, how these adult turtles migrated to their birthplaces for nesting, navigating to their natal beaches remains unknown. Researchers have pondered upon various reasons for this occurrence: the leatherback turtle may use several clues like ocean currents, the earth’s magnetic field, and even water chemistry.

Sea Turtle Migration Video

They are among the most highly migratory animals on the planet. They travel as many as ten thousand miles or more each year between foraging grounds in search of theirs food, jellyfish.

Another unique feature of the leatherback sea turtle species is that they have a light pink spot directly above their brain on top of their head. Researchers think this allows light to reach the pineal gland of the leatherback sea turtles, which may be used for migration.

In the Pacific Ocean, leatherbacks migrate from their nesting beaches in the coral triangle to the coast of California to feed upon the abundant amount of jellyfish found there every summer and fall. These Pacific sea turtles migrate about 9700 km from their nesting sites in Indonesia to California.

In the Atlantic, they go from Caribbean beaches up to the U.S. east coast to Canada. In the Pacific, many go from Southeast Asia, countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, to California, and then go up to the Alaskan waters.

Climate change and rising pollution levels have been disturbing the migration patterns of these species.

A warming climate is likely to cause multiple changes in beach morphology. It will lead to higher sand temperatures that can be lethal to eggs and eventually disturb the nesting season.

The nesting season remains the primary reason for the migration of the species; these disturbances can alter the ratio of male and female hatchlings produced.

Rising seas and storms can cause beach erosion, leading to flooding in nests or washing them away.

These climatic changes will disturb the migration patterns of sea turtles, and other animals as changes in the environment’s temperature will alter the abundance and distribution of food resources, leading to a shift in the migratory range of these animals.

Efforts are being made to stop these negative changes so that they don’t alter the migration pattern of the leatherback sea turtles as it is unique to them and needs to be saved to maintain the ecological balance and protect turtles.

4. The Leatherbacks Have the Widest Global Distribution of All Reptile Species

The leatherback is a turtle species with a cosmopolitan global range. Out of all the reptiles, the D. coriacea species of turtle has the widest distribution on the planet.

They can be found in places as far north as Alaska and Norway and in the south as far as Cape Agulhas in the African continent, and even to the southernmost tip of New Zealand. These turtles can be found in all tropical and subtropical beaches and the arctic circle.

There are three genetically distinct leatherback populations: those that occur in the Atlantic, the eastern Pacific, and the western Pacific oceans. In the Indian Oceans, though nesting beaches have been identified, the leatherback population remains unassessed and unevaluated.

The leatherback range thought the Atlantic Ocean; from far north like the North Sea and even the cape of good hope in the south of Atlantic.

Unlike other sea turtles, the leatherback, because of their physical structure, feed in the areas of calmer waters.

The largest nesting population of the leatherbacks is the beaches of maybe national park in Gabon in central Africa, with nearly thirty thousand turtles visiting this beach.

Breeding and feeding areas are also present on the eastern coast of Florida, and nesting females are also present in Costa Rica, the beaches of Gandoca, and Parosmia.

The pacific female leatherbacks remain the most endangered marine turtle, with only 2300 adult females remaining as per the estimates of WWF. In the continental united state, they are two major pacific leatherback feeding areas.

One feeding area of these turtles is near the mouth of the Colombian river. One other is in America, located in the river of Columbus and further into the north, away from Canada’s pacific coast. These leatherbacks visit beaches situated in British Columbia.

Another sub-population suggested is the South China Sea sub-population which has been effectively eradicated now but nested in Malaysia on the beach of Rantau Abang.

It had the largest nesting population of about ten thousand nests per year, which declined mainly due to human consumption. Though several methods were attempted to save these populations, they turned out to be futile.

Dermochelys turtles’ population also exists in the Indian Ocean in areas of Sri Lanka and the Nicobar islands of India. But there has been very little research done on this sub-population of leatherback turtles.

5. The Leatherback Turtles Grow Faster than Hard-Shelled Turtles

A leatherback turtle, on average, grows faster than other hard-shell turtles. However, the actual lifespan of a leatherback turtle is unknown, and there are still uncertainties among researchers on the age at which these sea turtles reach sexual maturity.

Average estimates range from 9 years to 20 years of age. Similarly, very little can be said about the life expectancy of a leatherback sea turtle. Still, they are likely extended living with longevity estimates at 45 to 50 years or even more. Some reports claim 30 years or more, while some even estimate 100 years.

The mating of leatherback sea turtles occurs at sea. Male leatherback turtles never leave the water once they find a mate, unlike their female counterparts who leave the sea for nesting. A male leatherback turtle can mate every year, whereas a female turtle can mate in only two or three years.

In the United States, the nesting occurs from about March to July. On average, any female leatherback sea turtle nests 5 to 7 times within a nesting season.

Sea Turtle Nesting Video

On the one hand, where most other sea turtles prefer returning to their beach for hatching, leatherback sea turtles, on the other hand, pick another beach that falls within their region, they choose beaches with soft sand because their eggs have more delicate shells and plastron, which are easily damaged by hard rocks.

The typical nesting environment of a leatherback sea turtle includes a dark forested area adjacent to the beach as the leatherback turtle’s eyes are not very well adjusted and adopted to night vision on land.

Adult have very few or no predators to attack them. Still, the eggs of these turtles and the newborn leatherback turtles are preyed upon by animals, including birds, crabs, and even raccoons. These activities also threaten the leatherback sea turtle population.

The temperature of the inside of the egg decides the gender of the leatherback; if this temperature is warmer, it will be a female leatherback, and if it is colder, it would be a male leatherback.

The nomadic life of the leatherback sea turtles makes it difficult for scientists and researchers to research them and know various details about their life cycle, which hinders the process of their conservation on a global scale.

Most gained knowledge and information comes from studying these turtles during their reproductive phase when female leatherback turtles migrate to tropical areas where they nest their eggs.

6. The Leatherback Turtles Have a Unique Physical Structure

From the above-mentioned amazing facts, we can conclude that the leatherback sea turtles are unlike any other creature on the planet, as they are the only sea turtle species without hardback or hard shells. They only have a leathery kind that also resembles rubber.

With the help of their unique physical structure, they are very skillful at deep diving, they can dive up to four thousand feet deep into the water and swim up to ten thousand miles! They can stay under the water for a straight 85 minutes, unlike most of the turtles.

This Incredible Animation Shows How Deep The Ocean Really Is

Closing Thoughts

Leatherback sea turtles have very sharp jaws that help them tear through gelatinous surfaces. Hence, this allows them to attack their prey like the sea slaps and the jellyfish in the ocean.

So, these were some of the exciting facts about leatherback sea turtles. This massive creature, which weighs around 900kgs, is one of the most giant living reptiles. As mentioned above, currently, they fall under “critically endangered” animals.

So, our moral duty is to help save these sea turtles as much as possible and not disturb their habitats.

Last Updated on December 28, 2023 by Sathi Chakraborty


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