Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts

24 facts about Trinidad's endangered sea turtles...

Baby leatherback sea turtle

Going sea turtle watching in Trinidad and Tobago gives you the chance to travel back, to a time before dinosaurs, to witness a struggle for survival that has been going on for over 220 million years.

Here are the sea turtle facts you need to illuminate your leatherback sea turtle watching experience. Sea turtle facts that may even encourage you to get involved with organizations that help conserve Trinidad's critically endangered sea turtles.

 4 Interesting Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts 

  1. Sea turtles first appeared in the seas over 200 million years ago during the age of the dinosaurs. They are sometimes called the "last dinosaurs", and while they outlived the dinosaurs they are considered critically endangered today.

  2. The leatherback sea turtle is the world's largest reptile. But while they sometimes grow up to 8 ft. long and weigh in excess of 2,000 lbs, an average adult female is usually about 6 feet in length and weights closer to 900 lbs.

  3. Leatherback sea turtles are the most evolved sea turtle, and the only sea turtle capable of surviving in sub-Arctic seas.

  4. They are also the only turtle without vestigial claws on their flippers, scales and a hard shell. Their shells are completely covered in a thick layer of oil saturated fat and skin, and their blood vessels are bundled closely together to retain heat, adaptations which help insulate them in colder waters.

 4 General Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts 

  1. There are 7 ridges running lengthways down the backs of leatherback sea turtles that help streamline their bodies.

  2. Leatherbacks are very strong swimmers, often traveling over 3,000 miles between feeding and nesting areas. They have been clocked swimming at up to 20 miles/hour, but likely swim on average closer to 1 mile/hour.

  3. Leatherback turtles that nest in Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean islands range as far north as Nova Scotia and as far west as the coast of Africa.

  4. Leatherback sea turtles can dive deeper than many whales, to over 2000 ft., in search of their favorite food, jellyfish, but they also eat soft body sea creatures like salps and sea squirts.

 8 Unusual Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts 

  1. Leatherback sea turtles cannot retract their head and flippers into their shells like fresh water turtles, nor can they swim or crawl backwards, which makes it very difficult to keep them in captivity - one of the reasons they are not exhibited in major marine aquariums.

  2. Turtles are an evolutionary novelty. They are the sole representatives of an ancient linage, and the only vertibrate evolved to have shoulder blades on the inside of it's ribcage.

  3. Scientists are uncertain as to why adult female sea turtles have a pink patch on the top of their heads.

  4. Scientists are also unsure how long leatherback sea turtles live. Some estimated that due to leatherbacks high metabolic rate their life expectancy may be only 60 to 75 years, others speculate that they may be long lived.

  5. Leatherback sea turtles have no teeth; however, their gullets, are lined with hundreds of tiny sharp downward point bony spines that strip up their food, and prevent their pray from escaping once swallowed.

  6. Atlantic leatherback sea turtles lay more eggs than do Pacific leatherbacks. And nest made during the middle of the nesting season usually contain more eggs than those made at either the beginning or end of the nesting season.

  7. Female leather sea turtles enter into a trance like state when laying their eggs. It is during time that researchers approach the animals to collect data.

  8. Leatherbacks lay a number of smaller infertile, or false eggs, on top of their nests, which scientist speculate protect the fertile eggs from the sand.

 8 Nesting Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts 

  1. The world leatherback populating is estimated at 35,000 adult laying females. Males cannot be counted because the never return to shore after hatching. Very little is known about the mating habits of these elusive ancient marine reptiles.

  2. Trinidad is one of the most important leatherback nesting sites in the world, with approximately 18% of the total world population nesting in Trinidad, about 6,000 females.

  3. At the height of the turtle-nesting season Grande Riviere Beach can attract as many as 200-400 leatherbacks per night, and Matura Beach as many as 150-300 (May through July), both are ideal places to go turtle watching.

  4. The sea turtle nesting or turtle watching season extends from March through to August, when you must have a permit or a guide to visit protected sea turtle nursery beaches at night.

  5. Adult female leatherbacks begin breeding at between 25 to 30 years old, and thereafter breed only every 3 or 4 years. In nesting years they come ashore as many as 7 times during the season, 9 to 10 days apart, to lay clutches of as few as 60 to as many as 200 leathery billiard ball size eggs at a time, though clutches usually average between 80 to 100 sea turtle eggs.

  6. In 60 to 65 days, 70% of these eggs hatch. Waiting until just before dawn to swim up through the loose sand of the nest, baby sea turtles just 2 to 3-inches long then scurry towards the brightest horizon and escape into the waiting sea.

  7. The process of laying sea turtle eggs takes between 1½ to 2 hours, when these gentle reptiles are extremely vulnerable.

    During the laying process leatherbacks must haul their enormous bodies up the beach to a point above the high tide line, in an alien environment; dig a wide depression, or body pit, with both front and back flippers; then with alternating back flippers only dig a hole into which they deposit their eggs. Once the laying process is complete they cover the nest and return to the sea.

  8. As few as 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles will survive long enough to return to Trinidad and Tobago beaches as an adult.

Getting all the sea turtle facts is an important first steps in education your self about these leviathans, but there's so much to learn.
Beach slippers for our guests

 Giant Sea Turtle Watching Tours 

Going turtle watching on beaches like Grande Riviere and Matura is another step. Through the ongoing research done on these and other Caribbean beaches we may one day know more about the mysterious lives and courtship rituals of leatherbacks in the open sea.

So, we encourage you to go on a Caribbean adventure and take a
turtle watching tour to Grande Riviere to find out more about the dangers sea turtles face, and what you can do to protect Trinidad's important giant sea turtle nursery.

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