Leatherback Turtle / Tortue luth
The Leatherback Turtle is an enormous sea turtle reaching over 2 m in length and
weighing more than 900 kg. It has an elongate triangular
carapace covered with
smooth skin and 7 prominent keels. It has no
scutes. The carapace is gray,
brown or black in colour and is covered in small white, yellow or pink blotches, as
our the head and legs. Females have more pink on the top of the head than males. The
plastron is white with five
ridges. The limbs are paddle-shaped and lack claws.
The prominent keels and lack of scutes distinguish the Leatherback Turtle from any
other species seen in Canada. In fact it is the only living species with these
features. All other marine species have claws, a bony carapace and scutes.
The Leatherback Turtle is found in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and
has been seen off Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands in British
Columbia as well as Newfoundland and the Maritime provinces. It is one of the
most widespread reptiles ranging throughout much of the Atlantic, Pacific and
Leatherback Turtles are found in bays and estuaries as well as the open sea.
Nesting occurs on a small number of beaches with fine sand and a deep water
Leatherback Turtles do not breed in Canadian waters. Females migrate to tropical or
subtropical where they drag themselves up on beaches at night to lay their eggs.
A female will lay several clutches of 50-166 eggs in a season but then may not
lay again for another 2-3 years. Most Atlantic turtles nest from April to July
while most Pacific turtles nest from November to January. Eggs hatch in 50-78 days.
All the hatchlings from a nest emerge together and rush the sea. The young are
5-7 cm at length at this time. The sex of hatchlings in determined by the incubation
temperature of the eggs.
Very little is known about the behaviour of these turtles in open water. Their
preferred prey are oceanic jellyfish but they also eat sea urchins, octopi, squid
and a variety of other animals as well as some algae and kelps. Unlike most reptiles,
Leatherback Turtles generate internal heat metabolically. It also has special glands
for secreting excess salt.
Because of their preference for jellyfish, Leatherbacks may accidentally eat plastic
bags which block the digestive tract and kill them. Both adults and eggs are hunted
by people and nesting beaches are vulnerable to habitat degradation. The Leatherback
Turtle is considered Endangered
in both Canada and the United States.
The following conservation efforts are ongoing:
Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle
Working Group - The Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle Working Group is a
collaborative marine research and conservation initiative involving fishermen and
university-affiliated biologists in Atlantic Canada. On this Web site, you can learn
about sea turtles, their research, and you can even track a leatherback turtle as it
makes its way through the Atlantic Ocean.
Vancouver Aquarium The Vancouver Aquarium has started a Leatherback
Turtle Awareness Program, to learn more about these endangered turtles that use
British Columbia waters as one of their habitats. We are asking for help to report
any sightings of sea turtles in coastal communities. In exchange, teachers, students,
and community groups are provided with learning activities that will show us what
we can do to help the Leatherback turtles. Visit their website to find out more
about their Awareness Program.