Animal of the week leatherback sea turtle

We Love the Leatherback Sea Turtle!

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Some of the world’s oceans are patrolled by the mighty but gentle giants that police the out of control jellyfish populations. They have armor that will stop the majority of sharks in their current tracks… Haha, get it? “current” tracks! Nevermind, let’s continue. These animals can hold their breath for incredible lengths of time. They have flippers that push and propel them through the water stronger than entire rowing teams. To add to all that, they are massive and can grow up to 1500 lbs! These incredible features are found in the Leatherback Sea Turtle, which is also the world’s largest turtle. The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the 4th largest reptile species, only to be beaten by 3 crocodile species.

Leatherback Sea Turtles are looked at as a vulnerable species due to multiple human causes. These include over-harvesting eggs, being caught as by-product in fishing operations, drowning in fishing nets, and even loss of egg laying habitat. These hydrodynamic reptiles are built for life out at sea and some even live in the open ocean for months at a time. Yet, humans still have a massive impact on these beautiful animals causing over a 75% decline in population numbers. Conservation efforts have started in many locations for these open ocean giants but there is still much to be done.

What does this species eat?

Leatherback Sea Turtles are a very special sea turtle when it comes to their diet. They are primarily jellyfish specialists and have a mouth designed for cutting into their yummy jelly bodies. If there are no jellies around the turtles will choose to eat other things like tunicates or sea sponges. Leatherback Sea Turtles are strongly affected by littering and trash being left at the beach. Plastic bags are especially harmful to the Leatherbacks because floating around in the water these resemble jellyfish and get eaten by the turtles. Keeping plastic use and trash waste to a minimum can easily help this species in the wild.

Are Leatherback Sea turtles dangerous?

No, don’t worry defenders. Sea turtles are not aggressive animals and are known to be quite peaceful. Due to their massive size and their shells, they do not have much need to be aggressive or defensive. Sea turtles, like the Leatherback Sea Turtle, are known to be curious animals. They will often swim near boats and scuba divers. These animals have mouths that are built for biting squishy invertebrates so a sea turtle bite isn’t meant for humans. While a bite would hurt, these are mostly peaceful animals that will very rarely attack a human.

How long can the turtle stay underwater?

Leatherback Sea Turtles are incredible at deep sea diving. These massive animals have flexible and elastic portions of their shell that allow them to fill up like giant air tanks. These flexible shells also allow them to handle deep sea pressure much different than other organisms. After coming up for air, the turtles will take a MASSIVE breathe and then dive well past 1,000 meters below the surface. They can hold their breath for an incredible 85 minutes!! That is almost 4 times more than the world record for deep sea diving by a human. Leatherback Sea Turtles can also hold a very large amount of oxygen in their blood and tissues. This allows them maximum efficiency when diving.

How old is the oldest sea turtle?

This question is difficult to answer. Sea turtles spend a long time at sea, and until recent advances in geo-tracking technology there has been very little success in determining the true lifespan of these immense animals. Multiple data sources note a sea turtle located in an aquarium in China, called the Guangzhou Aquarium, that claimed their sea turtle was over 400 years old. However, multiple other sources also stated that this assumption was incorrect. Whether the age is correct or not, scientists know it is very close and to think there is a sea turtle that is possibly over 400 years old is super cool!

On average, most sea turtle species will live for an average of 60-80 years, with some specimens lucky enough to live into the hundreds. Turtles are truly amazing and we have so much more to learn over in the turtle section of our Kids’ Zone, so don’t forget to head over there to continue learning about these amazing animals. Turtles are reptiles and you can learn a lot more about them on our Youtube channel and our podcast, “The Squadcast”.

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