Atlantic Leatherback

Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea

Mi’kmaq Translation: Translation Unknown

French Translation: Tortue luth

Gaelic Translation: Turtar droma-leathair

Physical Description

Atlantic leatherback turtles are the largest living turtles in the world. Their smooth, leathery carapace is long with ridges that run the length of the shell, then narrows to a point on the back. They are dark brown to blueish black with light blue blotches. Adults have a pink spot on their head. The plastron is pinkish white. Leatherback turtles have flippers but lack claws, and the front flippers are the same length as the carapace.

Size

Hatchlings measure 6cm in length

Adults measure 137 to 178cm in length

Adults weigh 295 to 544kg

Range and Distribution

Leatherback turtles have the largest global range of any reptile. Between April and December this species is widely distributed inshore and offshore around the Atlantic Canadian region. Those that forage in Atlantic Canada nest in tropical regions in the Western North Atlantic, ranging from Florida south to French Guiana.

Habitat

They are an aquatic species that lives in marine environments. Foraging occurs in coastal areas and in the deep offshore waters.

Diet

The throat of Leatherback turtles is lined with backward-pointing spines, this is an adaptation that allows it to feed extensively on jellyfish. They will also predate on sea urchins, snails, crustaceans and small fish.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The timing of nesting season is dependent on the location of the nests. Females return to the same beaches each year. The individuals who forage in Atlantic Canada will nest in tropical regions from April until July, while others will nest in French Guiana between November and February. In the evenings, every 2 to 4 years, females will lay up to 11 clutches spaced up to 12 days apart. Nest cavities can measure more than a meter in depth, where females will deposit up to 166 eggs. Approximately two months later the hatchlings will emerge in the evening, using light cues to guide them to the ocean. Gender is based on egg incubation temperature. Temperatures below 28.75 degrees produces males, and temperatures above 29.75 degrees produces females. Sexual maturity is reached between 6 to 15 years of age. Although their full lifespan is unknown, it is thought they can live up to 50 years or more.

Status

SARA: Endangered

COSEWIC: Endangered

* All marine turtles are considered endangered species

Threats

High mortality rates result from by-catch and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, propeller strikes and climate change. Additional threats to Leatherbacks include pollution and the ingestion of plastics and garbage – especially anything that resembles jellyfish.