Info on Leatherback turtles

While doing a St Lucia Turtle tour with EuroZulu Safaris, you might be lucky enough to see the rare leatherback turtle.

Leatherback Turtles 

Information about Leatherback turtles which nest on St Lucia Beaches

Common Name: Leatherback turtle – named for its unique shell which is composed of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin, strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates that makes it look “leathery.”

Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea

Description: Head has a deeply notched upper jaw with 2 cusps. The leatherback turtle is the only sea turtle that lacks a hard shell. Its carapace is large, elongated and flexible with 7 distinct ridges running the length of the animal. Composed of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin, strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates, the carapace does not have scales, except in hatchlings. All flippers are without claws. The leatherback turtle’s carapace is black with white spots, while the plastron is whitish to black and marked by 5 ridges. Hatchlings have white spots on carapace.

Size: 121-183 cm. The largest leatherback turtle ever recorded was almost 305 cm from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail and weighed in at 916 kg.

Weight: 250-700 kg.

Diet: Leatherback turtles have delicate, scissor-like jaws. Their jaws would be damaged by anything other than a diet of soft-bodied animals, so they feed almost exclusively on jellyfish. It is remarkable that this large, active animal can survive on a diet of jellyfish, which are composed mostly of water and appear to be a poor source of nutrients.

Habitat: Leatherback turtles are primarily found in the open ocean, as far north as Alaska and as far south as the southern tip of Africa, though recent satellite tracking research indicates that leatherbacks feed in areas just offshore. Known to be active in water below 4 degrees Celsius, the only reptile known to remain active at such a low temperature.

Nesting: Nest at intervals of 2 to 3 years, though recent research has indicated they can nest every year. Nests between 6 to 9 times per season, with an average of 10 days between nestings. Lays an average of 80 fertilized eggs, the size of billiard balls, and 30 smaller, unfertilized eggs, in each nest. Eggs incubate for about 65 days. Unlike other species of sea turtles, leatherback turtle females may change nesting beaches, though they tend to stay in the same region.

Range: Most widely distributed of all sea turtles. Found world wide with the largest north and south range of all the sea turtle species. With its streamlined body shape and the powerful front flippers, a leatherback turtle can swim thousands of miles over open ocean and against fast currents.

Status: Listed as Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future) by theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Threats to Survival: Greatest threat to leatherback sea turtles is from incidental take in commercial fisheries and marine pollution (such as balloons and plastic bags floating in the water, which are mistaken for jellyfish).

Population Estimate: approx. 35,860 nesting females.