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Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles

February 9, 2011


Lucky me, I was just handed a 204 page “Leatherback Synopsis” from the Fish and Wildlife Service that I get to read. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more to share with you by the time I’ve finished it!

Strange enough, I had a dream about a leatherback sea turtle last night. It was a very odd dream; it basically combined my STRP work and memories from playing Super Mario 64. Maybe not that weird I guess, because after all the Koopas and Bowser are turtle-like characters. But Leatherback sea turtles are not really like Koopas at all. So don’t think that. I’m realizing only some people will understand what a Koopa is, or who Bowser is, but oh well.


I’ve gotten a large number of comments from friends and family in California who claim that they didn’t even know there were sea turtles off the Northern California coast. Here you go my darlings, some information on the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, which can be found nearly everywhere in the Pacific Ocean with exception of Arctic waters. The waters off the western U.S. coast are actually incredibly important feeding grounds for the Leatherback sea turtles, but these waters are also swarmed with commercial fishing fleets and plastic marine debris—causing their population to fall drastically. Their numbers are so low that they are rarely seen, and as a result they are carelessly overlooked!

What a little cutie! 🙂

Some facts about leatherbacks:

  • They are black in color, often with whitish spots.
  • The leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) is actually separated into a different taxonomical family from the 6 other species of sea turtles (family Dermochelyidae; the other species are part of the family Cheloniidae).
  • Leatherbacks are the only turtle without vestigial claws on their flippers, scales and a hard shell. Instead they have a leathery shell that has seven ridges for a streamlined body.
  • A number of unique adaptations allow this species to survive in colder waters.
  • Leatherbacks can grow to over 6 ft long and weigh around a ton. They are the largest marine reptiles on earth.
  • The leatherbacks have been around for more than a hundred million years—and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs—but now human activities have got their populations in critical danger.
  • In the summer and fall, the leatherbacks migrate from their nesting grounds in Indonesia 6,000 miles to northeastern Pacific waters (off the Northwest U.S. coast) to feed on jellyfish. They then return to Indonesia for the breeding season. This is the longest known migration of any living marine reptile.
  • According to the World Wildlife Fund, as few as 2,300 adult female leatherback sea turtles remain in the Pacific Ocean.

Super cool!

What are some things that can be done to protect these beauties?

1. We need designated critical habitat along the U.S. west coast! Ideally we need to protect leatherbacks everywhere, but for now this is a crucial start. Actually, on Feb. 4th the Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana today filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government for failing to protect leatherback sea turtle habitat off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. See the press release here!

2. Harsher regulations are needed for fishing operations that catch sea turtles, sharks, sea birds, and marine mammals as bycatch. Fishing methods such as drift gill nets and longlines can entangle, harm, and commonly drown over 200 species of marine life. Recently, legal action has been taken against Hawaii’s Swordfish Longline fleet in order to reduce the number of sea turtles being caught as bycatch.

3. Not only are plastic packaging, single-use plastic bags, and plastic bottles unsightly waste, they are also a serious threat to sea turtles and marine life in all oceans and on all continents. INCLUDING ANTARCTICA. Leatherback sea turtles mistake the floating plastic for jellyfish—their main food source. The poor things swallow the plastic, which can block their digestive tract, cause starvation, or choke the turtle to death.

4. STRP is re-starting our Leatherback Watch program! It is hard for any action to be taken in the protection of leatherbacks because there is such limited data being collected. It’s hard to accurately know the number of individuals in a sea turtle population let alone any of their activities because males spend their entire lives at sea. Female sea turtles only emerge from the water so they can lay their eggs on sandy beaches. Having that said, at STRP we’re kick-starting again our Leatherback Watch program that will allow anyone to call in and report a leatherback sighting, which will provide data for researchers. More information on this to come!

5. Tell others about these amazing sea turtles! If people don’t know they exist then they won’t think about protecting them, am I right? Public education is SO important!

Okay y’all that concludes my spiel on the lovely leatherback sea turtles. Stay tuned for posts on the other six species! Spread the word of love & turtles!



National Geographic –

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