Common Name: Leatherback Sea Turtle
Type: Sea Turtle / Reptile
Range: The leatherback turtles are found worldwide in the tropical and mild waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It also exists in small numbers in British Columbia, British Isles, Newfoundland, Argentina and Australia. An estimated 34,500 females nested annually worldwide during 1995, but a dramatic decline from the 115,000 estimated during the year 1980. However, latest estimates for the North Atlantic alone are in a range of 34,000 to 94,000 adult leatherbacks.
Exponential declines in leatherback nesting have occurred along the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica and in Malaysia. They are most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles.
The leatherback Turtles nests and breed on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. There are protected beaches. These turtles can be seen from February through July on the Caribbean side and on the Pacific side from October – March with peak activity in November and December. It could be seen at Playa Grande during breeding season.
Playa Grande, Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp, Playa Ostional, Boca de Matina, Playa Naranjo and Playa Gandoca, and Playa Gandoca.They are also available in the National Parks of the Costa Rica,
Size: The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest, deepest diving creature. The adult leatherback can get a length from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 – 2.4 meters). Its shell is composed of a mosaic of small bones covered by firm, rubbery skin with seven longitudinal ridges or keels.
Weight: The mature Leatherback Sea Turtle weight could be from 550 to 1200 pounds (295 – 545 kilograms). There are records of at least one specimen weighing 2,000 pounds (907 kilogram).
Diet: They are Carnivore. Jellyfish are the main diet for them, but it is also known that they feed on sea urchins, crustaceans, squid, tunicates, blue-green algae, fish, and floating seaweed.
Average life span: The average lifespan of Sea Turtle is estimated 45 years.
Habitat: The leatherback is the most pelagic of the sea turtles. Adult females require sandy nesting beaches backed with vegetation and sloped sufficiently so the distance to dry sand is limited. Their preferred beaches have nearness to deep water and normally rough seas. The leatherback’s habitat is usually tropical and subtropical seas, but it could be found as far north as Nova Scotia. The main nesting beaches in the western hemisphere are on the Pacific Coast of Mexico at Chacahua, Barra de la Cruz, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Mexiquillo, and at Tierra Colorado, Guerrero, Playa Langosta, and Playa Grande, Costa Rica. Some are nesting along the Mexican Gulf of Mexico.
Breeding/Reproduction: In the U.S., The nesting takes place during March to July in the costal areas of Costa Rica and throughout U.S. Female leatherbacks Turtles nest make their nests about once every 3 or 4 years on tropical and sub tropical beaches. They make an average of five to seven times within a nesting season, with an observed maximum of 11 nests. The nests are made the night in clutches and they lay an average of 80 to 85 yolked eggs. These eggs are white spherical and approximately 2 inches in diameter. Normally incubation takes place from 55 to 75 days, and surfacing of the hatchlings occurs during night. Most leatherbacks re migrate to their nesting beaches at the interval of Two to three years. It is believed that Leatherbacks Sea Turtle reach sexual maturity at the age of about 16 years.
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Scientific Identification: Dermochelys coriacea; Origin: D. coriacea) is the largest reptile and the heaviest turtle of the world. It grows up to 8 feet on length while weights around 2000 lbs at maximum. An adult female grows around 6 feet in lengths with an average weight of 900 lbs. It was around 200 million years ago during the age of the dinosaurs, when Leatherback Sea Turtles appeared in our mother earth. This sole representative of ancient linage is often called the ‘last dinosaur’ while it is on the verge of distinction in today’s world. This old friend is the most evolved sea turtle of our world and it is the only turtle that survived in the sub-Arctic seas.
This exclusively distinguished creature is mostly seen on the open sea which includes sea coasts of the Atlantic Zone (Canada, Gabon, Caribbean Coasts, Costa Rica etc.), Pacific Zone (Papua, Salomon Islands, Indonesia etc.), South China Sea Zone (near Malaysia) & Indian Ocean Zone (near Sri Lanka & Nicobar Islands).
Leatherback Sea Turtles are good swimmers. They are the only turtles that do not have vestigial claws on their flippers, scales and a hard shell. Its shell is covered with a thick layer of oil saturated fat and skin. Its blood vessels are closely bundled and this allows to retain heat and to survive in colder environments like – water from the Arctic seas. They swim around 3000 miles between feeding and nesting zones. In general they swim on average of 1 mile/hour. Leatherback Sea Turtles can dive deeper than many whales and the depth may exceed 2000 feet. With this impeccable skill of swimming, this swim-master searches for foods in the deep sea and that include its favorite food – Jellyfish.
Unlike a fresh water turtle, a Leatherback Sea Turtle cannot crawl backwards or retract its head or flippers into the shell. Every adult female of this creature has a purple patch on their head and reason for this is still not identified by the scientists. Scientists are also uncertain regarding the life expectancy of this turtle. By nature, they are long living creatures but due to high metabolic rate they may live for only 60 to 75 years.
Leatherback Sea Turtles do not have teeth. They have a gullets lining with hundreds of tiny downward pointed spines. These are used to strip foods or to prevent a pray from escaping while it is swallowed. An Atlantic Leatherback lays more eggs than the Pacific ones. Female turtles prefer to lay eggs in a trance like state and they often lay a few smaller infertile eggs at the top of the nests in order to protect the fertile eggs from the sand. Generally, female turtles starts breeding at 25 to 30 years of age and after that they breed on every 3-4 years of interval. The process of laying sea turtle eggs takes around 1.5 to 2 hours when they live in a very vulnerable stage. It is estimated that there are around 35000 adult laying females. However, the number is uncertain for the living males since they never return to shore after hatching.