Leatherback turtle - Ecology & Habitat

Leatherback turtle returning to sea after nesting. French Guiana.

Can withstand water temperatures of -10°

The leatherback turtle has a worldwide distribution. It is found from tropical to sub-polar oceans, and nests on tropical (rarely subtropical) beaches. The species is highly pelagic (occurring in open oceans), venturing inshore only during the nesting season.

Life Cycle
Juvenile leatherbacks may remain in tropical waters warmer than 26°C, near the coast, until they exceed 100 cm in curved carapace length (CCL).

The estimate of age to sexual maturity for the species is unknown. Adults are pelagic and live in the open ocean, sometimes in temperatures below 10°C. There are very few sighting of males near the coast during the breeding season. The life-span of leatherbacks is unknown.

Female leatherbacks may lay four to five times per season, each time depositing 60 to 120 eggs. Strangely, about half the eggs in each clutch are too small to develop successfully, or lack yolk. Leatherbacks appear to nest once every two or three years with an incubation period of approximately 60 days.

The large size of leatherbacks is all the more remarkable given their low energy, low protein diet of soft-bodied creatures such as jellyfish, squid and tunicates ("jelly fish-like" marine invertebrates). These floating organisms can occur in great concentrations near the surface where ocean currents converge or upwell, that is where warm surface water is drawn away from along a shore by offshore currents and replaced by cold, denser water brought up from the subsurface. These areas are where leatherbacks congregate to feed.

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