Creature Feature – Leatherback Turtle

Since turtle season is in full swing and I am diving much more often earlier this year, I thought it would be good to bone up on my turtles a little bit more.
Quick Leatherback Turtle Facts:
1. Did you know the leatherback is the largest of the sea turtles; it travels the farthest, dives the deepest and ventures into the coldest water.
2. Did you know the leatherback does not have a bony outer shell like other turtles?
3. Did you know it basically feeds on jellyfish. They even have a special notch in their beak to help puncture the man-o-war jellyfish.
4. Did you know they can weigh up to 2000 lbs and be 8 feet in length?
5. Did you know there are about 50 nests in Florida and nesting is generally April through July?
6. Did you know that many leatherback turtles die from ingesting plastic debris mistaken for jellyfish or being caught in fisherman nets and buoy lines?
7. Turtles appear to cry…however the “tears” that turtles “cry” are just their way of shedding excess salt.
8. They can dive up to 4200 feet and stay under water for up to 85 minutes.

I personally have never seen one of these while diving in their natural habitat. I am saddened to realize that the enormous thing I saw dead in Cape Canaveral on the beach last year was a Loggerhead. It had to be over 400 pounds.

I hope you enjoy this slide show of pics I found. I hold my breath when I see these gorgeous creatures. Please be aware that it was my intention to shock and awe you on a few.

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The leatherback turtle is the largest turtle and the largest living reptile in the world. These reptilian relics are the only remaining representatives of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years. Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world. He is the only turtle that does not have a hard shell. Instead of the scutes other turtles have, it has a leathery oily skin. It has the texture and feel of rubber.
Leatherbacks will generally be dark grey to black with occasional white spots. It has connective tissue overlaying loosely interlocking dermal bones. The carapace has seven longitudinal ridges and tapers to a blunt point. This makes it easy to spot.

The front flippers lack both claws and scales and are proportionally longer than in other sea turtles; their back flippers are paddle-shaped. The ridged carapace and large flippers are characteristics that make the leatherback uniquely equipped for long distance foraging migrations. It is more aerodynamic and stream lined (in dive terminology) This turtle’s underside is a great example of counter shading. The leatherback turtle has enormous flippers compared to the proportion of it’s body. These sea turtles swim with an incredible grace and speed and have been clocked at over 22 miles per hour. They are also remarkable among reptiles in that they can survive in cold waters; they have been reported as far north as Norway and south off the coasts of Chile and New Zealand. This range is possible because leatherback sea turtles can keep their body temperature warmer than the water surrounding them, due to a thick, oily, fat layer under their skin and their ability to turn off blood flow away from cold flippers. All other sea turtles are confined to the warmer regions of the world’s oceans.
Instead of teeth, the leatherback turtle has points on the tomium of its upper lip, with backwards spines in its throat to help it swallow food. They also have that special notch in it’s back of mouth to help them puncture Portugese Man o’war jellyfish. They also will eat fish, mollusks, squid, sea urchins, and other marine creatures. A leatherback’s mouth and throat also have backward-pointing spines that help retain such gelatinous prey.

Adult leatherbacks are virtual loners preferring to swim the seas alone, except on occasionally gathering to feed in areas with large numbers of jellyfish.

Once a male leatherback turtle is hatched they never go back to land. The temperature of the nest will determine whether the turtle is a male or a female. A mix of male and female hatchlings occurs when the nest temperature is approximately 85degrees Fahrenheit, while higher temperatures produce females and cooler temperatures produce males. Leatherback female sea turtles require warm tropical beaches to incubate their eggs. After mating with a male just off shore, the female waits for nightfall to clamber up the beach, dig a shallow pit in the sand, and deposit her eggs. They come ashore for about 1 and half hours. The female then buries the eggs with her hind flippers and compacts the sand with the weight of her body before crawling back to the sea. Each female leatherback can possibly nest up to ten times in one nesting season, and return every 3-4 years for as long as thirty years!

Although a female may lay as many as 100 to 150 eggs at time, only a few will survive to grow to adulthood and breed. Life is perilous for a tiny hatchling sea turtle. They are a favorite food for natural predators such as raccoons, seabirds, sharks, and large fishes. If it can survive to adulthood, spending as long as 10 to 15 years at sea, a turtle will return to breed at the same beach where it hatched. Leatherbacks migrate hundreds and hundreds of miles every year.

Atlantic Leatherback numbers seems to be stable or on a slight increase while Pacific Leatherbacks are declinging in numbers. It is estimated that only about one in a thousand leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood. Oh my friggin God!

Stay tuned tomorrow to learn why they are so extinct and about what you can do to help.

About daniellesdives

diving enthusiast
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2 Responses to Creature Feature – Leatherback Turtle

  1. Brian says:

    great lil blurb. I went back on the turtle nest up here in NE Florida and turns out it is a Leatherback nest.

    • that is awesome! I am trying to find out more about where exactly they nest, I got 28 beached but haven;t seen if any are close here yet. It sickens me when as I learn more about sea creatures I love to see about how idiotic humans are. Stay tuned for tomorrows post it is about all the dangers they face. It will shock you a bit.

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