Leatherback sea turtle

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest sea turtle in the world, with the largest recorded a specimen weighting 916 kilograms, but their average weight is between 300 and 600 kilos with a length of 1.6 meters. The leatherback turtle, the only living species of the genus Dermochelys, is easily identified by its hydrodynamic big shell with a teardrop shape.

The leatherback sea turtle color is dark with white and pink spots and females can be distinguished from males by their larger size and a characteristic pink mark on top of their heads. In addition to its sheer size, leatherback sea turtles can be easily identified by the narrow ridges that run lengthwise its shell and their large front flippers that can grow up to 2 meters. Their exact lifespan is unknown since males never return to the beach as they spend their entire lives at sea, but are believed to live up to 80 years old.

leatherback sea turtle nesting
Leatherback sea turtle nesting. Pic by rustinpc

Leatherback sea turtles can be submerged between 30 and 70 minutes, but usually come to the surface to breathe every 3 to 8 minutes. Adult leatherbacks feed primarily on jellyfish, being an extraordinary natural remedy against plagues of these animals; they can eat hundreds every day.

A unique feature of these turtles is that they can live in cold water and even dive to 1,000 meters deep in search of food. This turtles chase jellyfish diving in deeper water during the day and in shallow water at night following their tracks. This strategy often takes turtles to very cold waters.

Scientists are still studying how can a sea turtle that feeds almost exclusively on jellyfish come to weigh up to 600 kilos. Through tracking leatherback sea turtles off the east coast of Canada, scientist found that this sea turtles have a preference for larger species of jellyfish, like the lion’s mane jellyfish, and can eat two of these jellyfish, completely, every minute.

Leatherback sea turtle mouth
The spines of the mouth of the leatherback sea turtle prevent any prey from escaping

Also, perhaps most importantly, the physical wear of the turtle during hunting is minimal: the mouth and throat of the leatherback sea turtle is replete with hundreds of hooks and spines that, once the jellyfish is caught by the peak of the turtle, the scape is impossible.

Leatherback sea turtle feeding on jellyfish

Leatherback sea turtles are found primarily in the open ocean and can make migrations of up to 20,000 km in a period of 647 days but usually perform migrations of around 7,000 kilometers over several months.

Like all sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles leave the sand of their nesting beaches and head immediately to the sea facing many predators after hatching. That moment is the most dangerous time of their lives. Ghost crabs, lizards, raccoons, coyotes, genets, mongooses and shorebirds are top predators in this stage.

Leatherback sea turtle nesting map
Leatherback sea turtle nesting map. In red main nesting areas. Source wikipedia

To nest, female leatherback sea turtles emerge at night on the beaches to lay their eggs. Using her hind flippers dig deep boot-shaped nests where they lay about 100 eggs. While other sea turtle species almost always return to their hatching beach, leatherbacks may choose another beach nearby.

Baby leatherback sea turtle
Baby leatherback sea turtle straight to the sea after hatching. Picture by Juan Manuel Gonzalez Villa

In the past 30 years, the number of western Pacific leatherback turtles has declined by 78 percent, seriously threatening the survival of this species. Among the dangers that adult leatherback sea turtles face are drift nets that hunt and suffocate the turtles, fishing lines or the hunting for their meat on nesting places. Also the eggs of these turtles are suffering the spoliation by man, like in some areas of Malaysia where are considered a delicatessen, the increase of the temperature of the beaches or the introduction of pigs, boars and dogs on the beaches where they nest.

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada.

Ir arriba