Learning about Leatherbacks
“The leatherback turtle is a magnificent creature found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. This ancient species swam with the dinosaurs and travels further, swims faster, and dives deeper than any other reptile on the planet. Until recently they were thought to be a tropical species but Canadian scientist Dr. Mike James has revealed a much different reality.
Every summer hundreds of leatherbacks migrate from their nesting grounds in the Caribbean to the cold waters off the East Coast of Canada to feast on jellyfish. This remarkable journey is fraught with a number of man-made hazards putting this endangered species at greater risk. Trek of the Titans is a one-hour documentary that provides a rare glimpse into the world of leatherback turtles and reveals the ground-breaking research and preservation work being done in Canada and Trinidad.” – Tell Tale Productions Inc.
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest living turtle weighing up to 900 kg. They are currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and as ‘Endangered’ under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). Primary threats to the species are:
- Fisheries bycatch: incidental capture of marine turtles in fishing gear targeting other species;
- Take: direct utilization of turtles or eggs for human use (i.e. consumption, commercial products);
- Coastal Development affecting critical turtle habitat: human-induced alteration of coastal environments due to construction, dredging, beach modification, etc.;
- Pollution and Pathogens: marine pollution and debris that affect marine turtles (i.e. through ingestion or entanglement, disorientation caused by artificial lights), as well as impacts of pervasive pathogens (e.g. fibropapilloma virus) on turtle health;
- Climate change: current and future impacts from climate change on marine turtles and their habitats (e.g. increasing sand temperatures on nesting beaches affecting hatchling sex ratios, sea level rise, storm frequency and intensity affecting nesting habitats, etc.).
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has received a number of leatherback sea turtle specimens for autopsy over the years (Article 1, Article 2) which has provided some opportunity to learn more about the species. The Canadian Sea Turtle Network involves scientists, commercial fishermen, and coastal community members to conserve the species in Atlantic Canada.