Leatherback turtles: going where few air-breathers dare

i-2e8ee25f691fea19abe4c53fec73653d-deep_turtle.jpgStory by Bryan Wallace, Duke University.
UW photo by Ed Standora.

Life in the deep sea is as far removed from a source of atmospheric oxygen as there is on Earth, but a select few animals do not let their need to breathe air limit the depths of their exploration. (No, I'm not referring to intrepid deep-sea human researchers.) These extraordinary critters frequently venture into the hostile conditions of the deep-sea, despite being vitally tied to air the above the ocean's surface.

When you hear about deep-diving, air-breathing animals, you might first think of colossal sperm whales plunging over 1,000 meters to battle giant squid in the dark abyss. Or perhaps you think of massive elephant seals spending over an hour at depths over a half a mile down chasing prey. Maybe you've even heard of the deepest known diver of them all, the beaked whales, with recorded dives to over 2,000 meters. But what about turtles? Could a shelled reptile be suited for making dives where only a few whales and seals dare to go?

Leatherback turtles, like some whales and seals, possess remarkable adaptations for long and deep dives, with large onboard stores of oxygen in their blood and muscle, and special features like collapsible lungs (to avoid 'the bends'), flexible shell (to respond to increased pressure at depth), and slowed heart rate (to conserve energy and oxygen stores). In fact, researchers have recorded leatherbacks diving to over 1,000 meters in different ocean basins (maximum reported dive was 1,230 m in the North Atlantic). Apparently, anything a whale can do, a turtle can, too.

To be clear, leatherbacks spend most of their time within the top 300 m of the ocean. These diving tendencies are likely due to leatherbacks' air-dependence and because they feed primarily on jellyfish, like lion's mane jellies and sea nettles, which tend to be concentrated at or near the ocean's surface. However, leatherbacks are clearly capable of - and undertake - much more ambitious diving. The obvious question is: what are leatherbacks doing down there?

At this point, we aren't sure what motivates a leatherback to plunge thousands of meters away from their most critical resource, but there are a few possibilities. Like other deep-divers, they might be pursuing prey. (Let's face it; food is a strong incentive for any animal.) Perhaps they shuttle between different water temperatures in order to keep their body temperature stable, so an occasional deep dive into frigid waters could offset the heating effects of strenuous diving. Or maybe, like many other marine animals, they use the deep-sea as refuge to evade hungry predators, such as sharks and orcas.

Currently, we are using satellite telemetry to track several leatherback turtles migrating away from their Costa Rican nesting beaches to their high-latitude foraging grounds in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Check out www.greatturtlerace.com to follow leatherbacks on their migration and to learn more about leatherbacks, the threats they face, and what is being done to protect them. Led by Stanford researcher George Shillinger, our group is analyzing leatherback dive profiles in relation to several oceanographic features to figure out just what drives leatherback diving. So far, all leatherbacks in our study have dived well beyond 300 meters on several occasions, and many have reached depths in excess of 1,000 meters. While leatherbacks have yet to reveal all of their secrets to us, hopefully our current efforts and those of our colleagues in other parts of the world will shed light on the dark side of leatherbacks' deep-sea lives.


From left to right, pictured are Bryan Wallace (Duke University), Rotney Piedra (Director, Las Baulas National Marine Park), Carlos Diaz (Park Ranger), George Shillinger (Stanford University), and Guillermo Briseno (Park Ranger) aside one of the largest turtles in Great Turtle Race. This turtle weighs about as much as the 5 grown men sitting behind her. She laid 12 nests at Playa Grande this season before departing on her trans-Pacific migration. Photo by Jason Bradley.

More like this

A special guest post by Bryan Wallace of Conservation International, featuring original research In April of last year, I posted a story about how leatherback turtles are deep-sea explorers due to their incredible abilities to cope with the challenging conditions of the deep. The story was…
There are a few theories about why sea turtles make occasional excursions into very deep (> 1000 m) waters of the bathyal zone. These involve escape from predation, thermoregulation, and prey availability. In the first two scenarios, sharks are fewer in deep-water, so turtles can evade predation…
There is so much happening in the world of sea turtles right now that we're going to dedicate an entire week of postings to sea turtles and their air breathing kin. We're calling it Megavertebrate Week. Note the new banner above. We argue that turtles, seals, and whales should all be considered…
So you walk into the pet shop, you're looking around at all the little animals and you see a cute little turtle in a freshwater terrarium. You think to yourself "wow, that's really neat, a cute little turtle." What you might not realize is that a cousin of this pet store turtle holds some most…

Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are known to eat shallow benthic organisms like sea pens and sponges. These grow in deep sea environments, too. Is there any evidence suggesting deep diving turtles eat deep sponges?

Great question, Peter. You're correct that neritic sea turtle species (e.g. loggerheads, green turtles, ridley turtles) are known to go after invertebrates of all sorts. However, no one knows if leatherbacks (or maybe other sea turtles on a deep dive) are going after deep sponges. It's possible, I suppose, depending on where they are. But often those really deep dives happen in REALLY deep water, where they never even approach the ocean floor.

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

My Supervisor used to do quite some leatherback tracking work here in Malaysia but because they're effective extinct these days, she now focuses her research (not tracking) on the green and hawksbill turtles (check out www.umt.edu.my/seatru).

And we're also trying to track a river terrapin (Batagur baska), a collaborative effort with Prof Herman from Acadia University, Canada.

In response to Kiki's question, collapsible lungs are made possible because of special cartilage that sea turtles and other air-breathing vertebrates have in their lungs that allow the lungs to be more flexible and collapse. Cartilage in our lungs is more rigid, hence no collapsing, at least not in beneficial ways. When a leatherback's lungs collapse under pressure, the air in the lungs moves up into the trachea, which IS rigidly enforced by hard cartilage, but because no oxygen or CO2 is transferred across the walls of the trachea (like what happens in the lungs), the air just stays there until the animal ascends and the lungs reinflate.

In response to 'pelf''s comment, it is a shame about the Malaysian leatherbacks, and having learned that lesson, we are trying to make sure the same doesn't happen to the leatherbacks in the Eastern Pacific. Check out www.greatturtlerace.com for more info on our efforts.

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 16 Apr 2007 #permalink

Have you been able to identify or at least estimate the maximum dive depth for leatherbacks? If not, could you give us a hypothesis instead?

Also, what is the average distance an individual you are tracking travels per day?

Keep posted tomorrow for more information about the leatherbacks!

By Kevin Zelnio (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

In response to Heather's questions, the deepest dive recorded for a leatherback is 1,230 m, recorded by Professor Graeme Hays of the University of Swansea, Wales, and his colleagues. As far as we know, leatherbacks can travel around 40-70 km/day (30-50 miles/day). The distances on the Great Turtle Race website are 'retro-fitted' to accomodate the 2 week lifespan of the site itself.

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 17 Apr 2007 #permalink

I'm glad you like the GTR site! Be sure to check out all the info on the site, including the education-related materials! And thanks for spreading awareness -that's the goal!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 18 Apr 2007 #permalink

My son todd loves turtles they are his fav animal in the world he would like to know how big is this turtle u have displayed @ how old do u think she is
thnku for yr time

Thanks for your question, Liza and Todd. That turtle is about 150 cm long (> 5.5 ft), and we measure the curve of the top part of her shell (the carapace). She probably weighs about 250-300kg (600 lbs). As for her age, that's one of the most important questions, but we have basically no idea! We wish they carried their driver's license with them so we could find out! But seriously, size is not an indicator of age in these animals, and there are no other external traits that would indicate age. There are methods using bones to count rings that are formed over time (like counting tree rings), and those methods are not very consistent, and are giving us estimates of anywhere between 10-30 years to reach adulthood! So we like to say that any leatherback who is nesting is somewhere bewteen 10 and 1000 years old! That's only kind of a joke...;)

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 20 Sep 2007 #permalink


I'm a costarican biologist, getting my graduate degree in Louisiana. I love the picture of the leatherback in the beach! I worked with Rotney and his wife Elizabeth Velez, for six seasons at Langosta National Park and leatherback conservation is my life and passion. GREAT PAGE!!!

By Diana Solis (not verified) on 15 Nov 2007 #permalink


By Tyler Clinesmith (not verified) on 29 Nov 2007 #permalink

what is the matter with you guys cant you see that your hurting the poor animal i hope you honestly get hurt like she did one day!!
inconsiderate disguisting men!
i despise you and your stpidity!

hey guys i dont think that is right for you to take that turtle away from its home. i think you should put it back or put it in a new home for it and everybody can see it.

hello fellows, i love turtles but i dont like that one because it is ugly!


this is a super cool turtle.

and it is so big i wonder if they took off it back and what that grey thing. it really looks funny.

aaaaawwwweeeessssooomnmeee aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeessssssssssssoooooooooome.

wooowww!!!i hope they put it back.if they didn't........curse u men!!!!
ok,that's about it.:D

omg that thing cannot be reallll!!!

Just one little question, but what are yall going to do with the leatherback sea turtle? Are yall going to let it go or keep it? I think that yall should let it go, because if you keep it than it might die,but if you let it go than it will probably live.

By Jordan Anderson (not verified) on 21 Feb 2008 #permalink

that shit is crazzyyy biggg :D

I love turtles! <33

By wynetta lynnda (not verified) on 19 Mar 2008 #permalink

Jordan, the leatherback sea turtle above was tagged with a satellite transmitter and released back into the ocean.

i love turtles! they are so cute! it was amazing what you caught! keep saving the turtles!

I love turtles. I have on and i hope everyone can make a difference to the turtles!Alot of turtles need your help!

I love turtles. I have one and i hope everyone can make a difference to the turtles!Alot of turtles need your help! You guys did a great job but if i were you i would let it go to the wild thankyou for the suport!

Awesome leatherback! I love turtles too - used to babysit a red-eared pondslider who was as old as I was (21-26 yrs back then). We also help the loggerheads and green sea turtles here.

So, since this post was from a year ago, what's happened to her?

Hi again everyone. It's been a while since I responded to the comments to my article, and I'm thrilled to see all of the attention it has received! Thanks to everyone who has posted a comment, linked to the article, and shown interest in the story.

To address the main questions about what happened to the enormous turtle in the photo, where is she now, etc., I'm putting together a new post. Stay tuned!


Bryan's follow-up to this leatherback turtle story is posted here

Are you still letting the turtles go?

By Jordan Anderson (not verified) on 16 Apr 2008 #permalink


Yes, of course they let the turtles go. Read the update posted in comment #34.


By Bo Gribbon, age 6 (not verified) on 16 Apr 2008 #permalink

I think that u should keep saving the turtles!!!!turtels Are one of my fave animals I LUV THEM!!! :) By the way #30 is right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SAVE THE TURTLES!!!!!They need our help!!!!

nice sea turtle i have one but not that big in fact i got two...

oooh he/she is so so so so so so so cute

Wow, that is amazing. I have never seen a turtle that huge. I think they are the most fascinating animals alive. we need to stand and preserve the for the future for many more to see.

By Cine Cruz (not verified) on 28 Apr 2008 #permalink

I feel they are one of the most facinating animals alive. I am in love with them.

By Cine Cruz (not verified) on 28 Apr 2008 #permalink

Hello Turtle Lovers, I have just returned from Parismina, Costa Rica after volunteering with the local effort to save the leatherbacks. The island of Parismina is a beautiful place on the Carribean side of Costa Rica. My daughter Carin and I went there for a week as volunteers. we walked the beach at night looking for the turtles that have come ashore to lay their eggs. We participated in measuring, tagging, egg gathering, and some beach clean-up programs. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. We stayed with a local family who fed us daily, invited us into their home and made us most comfortable while we were there. Poaching has decreased since the program started and the islanders show a respect for the turtles and the influx of funds that comes along with Ecotourism and awareness of the amazing resource that is the turtle population. Parismina is remote and wildlife of all kinds is abundant. Check it out! Sincerely, Dale

By Dale Hoffman (not verified) on 03 May 2008 #permalink

hi I love leatherback turtles! one question how did they get their name?

That was horrible i mean who would hunt a turtle like that big it sucks THERE IS PROBABLY NOT THAT MANY OF THOSE ANIMALS LEFT.So please consider saving that turtle unless its already dead :-{...SAVE EVERY ANIMAL THATS ENDANGERED...THEY NEED OUR HELP!!!!!


The turtles got their name from their supporters in the Great Turtle Race http://www.greatturtlerace.com/.


We're with you. No turtles were harmed in this experiment.

omg me and me friend r doing reaserch on turtles 4 our science project an i love thi info.......

is there any other info on leatherback turles we could use..(mabe on classification)...????????


i <3 E.m.c.

That is a really big turtle. How would you find something like that?

you idiots i cant believe you would ever do such a thing i for one am a major turtle lover you wouldn't believe how much i love turtles. And for you to do that tou guys a pure evil!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sham Sham on you. God despises you why would you ever hurt an animal!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If I knew where you were and if I had a car i would go hurt you as much a you hurt the poor turtle they never did anything to you so why should you punish them for being the largest turtle or the smallest turtle in the world it not their fault!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Iâ¥Turtles but I HATE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

wow thats the biggest turtle ever !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By sydnie&lt;333333 (not verified) on 20 May 2008 #permalink

Hi All:
It's great to see that people are still posting comments to this story! Thanks for your interest! As a reminder, I've posted a follow-up story to this one (check out post #34 for the link).

I want to address some of the comments that have voiced concern over whether we are hurting the turtles. To be very clear, we love the turtles more than anyone else on Earth does. We have dedicated our lives and our professional careers to is SAVING turtles. So, while the photo above might look like we're doing something to hurt the turtle, that 'backpack' is carrying a tracking device that has allowed us to follow her (and many of her fellow turtles) as they migrate across the eastern Pacific Ocean (Check out my other post to see where this turtle went!). This information is absolutely critical to finding out where they go, when, why, and what we need to do to make sure they can do so safely.

Simply put, my goal here is to bring the beauty of leatherbacks and the importance of marine conservation to as many people as possible. I'm thrilled to see so many people so interested! You can find out more about what we and others are doing to save sea turtles at www.conservation.org/seaturtles, www.seaturtle.org, www.leatherback.org, www.topp.org.

Thanks again for your interest, and feel free to ask questions,
Bryan Wallace

You mean... you're NOT pur evil?

LOL...nope. Only the light side of the force for us young turtle jedis.

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 20 May 2008 #permalink

I LOVE TURTLES!!!!! if you saved it im so happy! when i grow up i want to be a marine biologist when i grow up!

By Courtney Merryman (not verified) on 27 May 2008 #permalink

Brian Wallace - you are so patient and understanding of the harsh comments that are obviously made by young and uninformed individuals that did not bother to read the article. Thank you all for your dedication to educating the world and saving the letherback. We use your turtle race web site in our third grade class here in maumee ohio to teach students about the need for conservation and awareness.

Thats a big ass turtle

How far north do these things come? As a Commercial Fisherman in Alaska I've seen a whole lot of strange things come up from the top all the way to the bottom. Even pulled up the head off of a Model A Ford once (probably used as an anchor once), but been splattered many, many times with small jellyfish. I'd love to see some turtles up here that would eat the darn things!

By borealfox (not verified) on 15 Jun 2008 #permalink

To Susan: That's great to hear that info and enthusiasm about the turtles has made it all the way to Maumee, OH! I was born and raised in Ohio myself, so I love to hear that the word is out in the 'heart of it all'!!!

To Mia: yes it is.

To 'borealfox': I would love to hear more about the 'strange things' you've seen in your work. I'm sure the Model A Ford is only the beginning! While it wouldn't be impossible for leatherbacks to get all the way up to Alaska, it isn't very common. I think there have been very sporadic sightings over the years that far north, but leatherbacks are typically limited to the Pacific NW USA and BC, Canada. But rest assured that you aren't the only one who would love to see more leatherbacks and fewer jellyfish!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 16 Jun 2008 #permalink

Oh yeah, and to Courtney Merriman: It's the best job around! Go for it!!!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 16 Jun 2008 #permalink

Hi turtle lovers,

I've recently joined a sea turtle watch program in Walton County, FL,and this Thursday I'm giving a presentation to my Kiwanis Club all about the turtles. If you have any advice or facts you'd like me to impart to the Kiwanians, I'd be happy to do so!


Mary Brady
Sea Turtle nest and hatching grounds protector
Fort Walton County FL

THAT IS THE BIGGEST TURTLE I HAVE EVER SEEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By Susie Joy (not verified) on 30 Jul 2008 #permalink

OMG THAT IS THE BIGGEST TURTLE I HAVE EVER SEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By Ashley Martell (not verified) on 30 Jul 2008 #permalink

THAT IS THE BIGGEST TURTLE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY WHOLE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By Shelby Martell (not verified) on 30 Jul 2008 #permalink

Playa Grande neighbors go to court for damage to leatherback turtles

On July 1, an appeal for protection was filed before the Constitutional Court by the Playa Grande Neighbors Association, arguing serious damage is being caused to the leatherback turtles that come to nest on the Guanacaste beaches of Playa Grande and Playa Ventanas.

Julio Saenz, a member of the community group, said he was going to present proof that scientific research led by the organization The Leatherback Trust (President Jim Spotila), has made it so that these endangered turtles are not coming back to nest on these beaches, which are part of the Las Baulas Marine National Park.

The experiment being questioned was conducted for scientific reasons. However, the Playa Grande Neighbors Association has indicated that none of the turtles fitted with the radio transmitters returned to their nesting site. Thats the main reason for the appeal for protection (recurso de amparo) that they filed with the Constitutional Court, and which is now being reviewed by its magistrates.
Of the 27 turtles that were outfitted with the devices in the 2003-2004 season, none returned to their nesting site, despite the fact that leatherbacks return to their nests, on average, 3.7 years after the time they migrated.

This information was presented in the reports issued by researchers with The Leatherback Trust, and which the Playa Grande neighbors have copies of. Meanwhile, 40 other turtles that were not given a transmitter, also on the 2003-2004 season, did return to their nests the following season.

In this sense, the appeal for protection accuses The Leatherback Trust of violating a series of international agreements ratified by Costa Rica for the protection of flora and fauna, according to article 7 of the countrys Constitution. The complainants are asking the Constitutional Court to ban experiments done with the turtles, as they could generate an irreversible effect against the environment, according to the appeal presented against SINAC, the Tempisque Conservation Area, and the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (MINAE).

By Pedro Vargas (not verified) on 31 Jul 2008 #permalink

biiiiiiiiiiiig turtle, asome

In response to Pedro Vargas:
First, our project has a 20 year history of research efforts that have contributed to conservation of leatherbacks in Costa Rica, including the formation of the National Park, and the ELIMINATION of egg poaching, which was one of the main drivers in the population decline of these animals. Thus, our reputation for important, reliable scientific research and consistent, dedicated conservation efforts speaks for itself -in Costa Rica and around the world.

Second, as conservation scientists working with endangered species, we have a responsibility to maximize the conservation applications of our research while minimizing the impacts of that research on our study animals. The very nature of field research is such that it is impossible NOT to have some impact -however small- on one's study subjects. Despite this unavoidable fact, we used the most widely accepted, proven technique available to us at the time of the study to attach transmitters to leatherbacks (the harness) to study their movements and the environmental influences of those movements throughout the Pacific Ocean. No tracking study had ever been conducted on this population on the scale of this one, and no tracking study had ever obtained so much crucial information to be used for conservation of leatherbacks in Costa Rican waters, and international waters as well.

Third, speaking of conservation importance, through high-level analyses of these high-quality data, we were able to outline clear, pertinent recommendations for conservation of leatherbacks in their marine habitats. In addition to egg poaching, incidental capture of leatherbacks in fishing gear also has been implicated as a major driver of this population's decline. Thus, mitigating the interactions between leatherbacks and fishing gear is now the most important conservation issue facing us and the leatherbacks we are trying to save from extinction. The information we obtained in this study has allowed us, for the first time, to describe in great detail where leatherbacks go, why they go there, when they go there, and what can be done to keep them out of fishing gear.

Fourth, as a technical point, contrary to the claim in his post, there are currently no data clearly demonstrating adverse impacts of the harnesses on leatherbacks. The only studies that have explored this possibility have arrived at tentative, suggestive conclusions that harnesses might result in slightly slower travel rates or might be related to earlier start of migration. What is needed is a rigorous test of various techniques to figure out what the impacts actually might be.

Fifth, we have identified almost 2000 individual leatherbacks over the past 15 years of monitoring, but have seen fewer than 500 return to the beach after being counted for the first time. Thus, we have an unfortunately, but consistently, low rate of return of our turtles (about 25%). In fact, during the years that we put harnesses on turtles, we counted 417 individual turtles, of which only 18% have returned so far. The turtles that we put harnesses on (46 total) are in the proportion that haven't returned yet, but still might. Leatherbacks take between 2 and 7 years to return to the beach to nest, and in some cases, we've recorded turtles returning after intervals of more than 10 years! Everyone can rest assured that when these turtles come back, our patient field biologists will be waiting to count them.

The take-home message is this: we care about saving these turtles more than almost anyone, and we always try to do the best job we can to find out what we need to know to save them, and to take the actions necessary to save them. We hope that others will join us in saving the leatherbacks in the Eastern Pacific!

Thanks for reading,

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 08 Aug 2008 #permalink

i think turtles are the most awesome animals i have two myself but believe me they're much much much smaller than this one i wish i could do all the hard work you guys did for that turtle i would risk my life to save a turtles and i am not kidding i love turtles so much i could spend a whole hour talking or typing about turtles there incredible animals in my point of view they;re better then dogs and any other animals when i hope to grow up to be just like those guys but only a girl well thanks for what you guys did thats what everyone should do pitch in just a little but what you guys do i a big step into helping the earth but i dont think theres enough people in the world that will actually help all they want to do is build and make bunches of money you can do that but you can do that by helping the environment and you can make just as much money but i like to do it for fun or for free well i better wrap this up thanks for all that you did thanks very very very very very very much bye bye now 8)

Thanks for your great comment, Danielle! Nice words of support go a long way for us folks working hard to save these animals and their habitats. And just through your enthusiasm and personal choices, you are already part of the team, helping the conservation efforts! Keep it up!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 19 Aug 2008 #permalink

During a recent off shore fishing trip (August 21, 2008) I hooked into an extremely enormous sea turtle of approximately nine feet long, with a head the size of a cow. I had no idea that a sea turtle could be that large, and that far north. We were 30 miles south of Block Island, RI. I just wanted to know how large the largest known leatherback turtle is, and what you think he was doing this far north. Love the research you are doing, keep the info rolling.
PS. The turtle was released unharmed

No, unfortunately there is no photo

Hey Peter H.:

That would be a leatherback! The largest on record was found on the coast of Wales, entangled in a net. It was a male leatherback that measured 2.8 m (almost 10 feet) long and weighed more than 900 kg (2100 lbs.). There really haven't been any records close that monster. The biggest records we hear of in the Atlantic and Caribbean are not quite 2m (7ft) long over the shell and probably weigh 700-800 kg (>1500 lbs). Not small, that's for sure!

The farthest north that a leatherback has been confirmed is up off of Norway, at appx 72 degrees North latitude! There are also reports of them in Alaska and swimming around ice floes in northern Canada. In fact, there is a great research crew based in Nova Scotia who work with local fishermen every summer studying leatherbacks in the ocean on the Scotian shelf. Leatherbacks are off New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland every summer around the same time (August-September). Look up the Canadian Sea Turtle Network for more info.

So how did you guys get it unhooked? What were you fishing? Nice work releasing it unharmed, and thanks for sharing. Keep that camera handy next time, just in case!

And thanks for your interest in our research. It sure isn't a bad job!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 24 Aug 2008 #permalink

hi nice turtles

l love turtles

If you ask me the tag looks rather massive! I am not sure how they would get accurate readings from the turtle after this massive obtrusive tracking device will obviously hinder and make the creature very uncomfortable.

Cruelty in the name of conservation- how would you feel with a device proportianate to the scale of that one fitted around you????????/

yall save the turtles make a differece theres more animals in need than humans oil leaks that go in the ocean can kill them SAVE THE SEA ANIMAL INCLUDING TURTLES!!! make a differece im asking a favor!! save the sea animals if u dont they will go extint no more dolphins!

re: Lisa's post.

Thanks for your concern and observation. The reality is that the satellite tag plus the equipment used to attach it weighs < 5% of the body mass of the turtle itself. 5% of a free-ranging animal's total mass is usually the accepted standard that attached tracking devices should not exceed.

In addition, the unique, smooth, oily skin of leatherbacks does not allow for direct attachment to their shells using glue, epoxy, etc., as is done for other species of sea turtles. The fact of the matter is that the attachment method shown in the picture was the most widely used, and widely accepted method available at the time that we deployed these tags.

As I've mentioned before, in order to gather the most important information that we need to be effective in conservation of these animals, we have to be proactive. For leatherbacks, understanding what they do in the water, where threats from fisheries bycatch and other pressures occur, is absolutely essential. We would not know what we know now about their movements, behaviors, and habitat requirements without having attached those tags.

No one values the survival of leatherbacks more than we do. That's why we do whatever we can, as conservation scientists, to provide the best scientific information possible to the people who make important decisions that affect whether leatherbacks will be around for the next generations to appreciate and conserve.

We appreciate everyone's support of our work, but more importantly of actions that will help leatherbacks and the seas they live in.


By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 10 Oct 2008 #permalink

OMG! Why did you do that!?!? You are a I.D.I.O.T IDIOT!!!!! I love turtles in fact i am getting one today from the Pet Depot. STIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish i could sew you!!! Just because i am a girl doesnt mean that i dont help turtles!! They are endangerd!! HELP THE SEA TURTLES!!!! no dont help them... SAVE THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

i was actually surprised to see 2 of these huge turtles this august off the coast of center Moriches,NY about 7 miles off actually we tok our 28'ft parker out to go look for trigger fish and tuna ;) they were beautiful but i was wondering why they were so far east and why they were swimming at the top of the water ; we also saw a pilot whale a GIGANTIC mako! and 2 green sea turtles it was a beautifullll dayyy hope to see them again next yearr

it is so the huge i mean how could a turtle be so huge lol

love this page... really love the voices of the young... very funny... never saw that side of research... who knew...?

about the harness... it looks like an aluminum tube frame... and... it just looks sorta permanite. isn't there some way to attach a transmitter that would detach in a few months...? the batterys in the transmitter only last so long... maby something that sheds after a few months in the ocean like rope made into a harness... or super glue it to a bit of the shell... you folks have probably thought this over but i had to ask... love the turtles...

By john in portla… (not verified) on 30 Nov 2008 #permalink

Hi John:

Great questions about the harness attachment. The tubes are flexible tygon plastic, and nylon straps pass through them and around the midsection of the body. Everything is held together by a rubber ring w/ a corrosible link. Thus, the whole apparatus will fall off automatically within a year or two, we estimate. The transmitters' batteries are programmed to last roughly 2 yr, so this timing is just right.

No type of glue or affixing substances can be used on leatherbacks because of their unique oily, leathery skin. Several folks are now trying to directly attach transmitters to leatherbacks' shells, but those procedures are still being developed.

The bottom line is that we are always trying to maximize the info we can get from tagging turtles while minimizing the impacts on the turtles due to the tagging itself. I'm sure we'll never be satisfied, and I think that means we are doing our jobs right.

You're right, the comments to the article have been great -for the most part. I'm always excited to have young folks get interested.

Thanks for your interest!

By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 06 Dec 2008 #permalink

is that turtle dead

By Sean Myers (not verified) on 05 Jan 2009 #permalink

this is sooooooooo coooooooooooooooooooollllllllllllllllll

holy crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i wonder how it would feel geting bit by that thing?

ive heard of large snapping turtles, even large sea turtles, but i never imagine that they get that big, shes beautiful!!!!!! id love to see her up close and personal.

could this turtle eat something alive or what!

the leatherback turtle is the best!!i did a report on it and i got a 100.

I can't believe the picture i just saw of that turtle .I've never seen a turtle that big.It's amazing that they can get that big.

really is she dead? she sure looks it. oh and how old is she? I really love turtles and i know shes Old but she looks horrible. I have 4 Red eared sliders and i love them. They are in a 75 gallon tank and they are happy. their not that big.Two of them are about the size of a tuna can, and they are 2 years.Then the other two are about the size of a coffee can, and their 4 years old. Their colors are really starting to show. My favorite turtle is a sea turtle. Their so beautiful.

Hi All:

I assure you, the turtle in the photo is NOT dead. She was very alive as she threw sand all over the beach while covering her nest, and walked powerfully back to the ocean, before paddling across the Pacific (see my other post to see where this turtle went: http://scienceblogs.com/deepseanews/2008/04/leatherback_turtles_one_yea…).
Unfortunately, we don't have a good idea as to how old this turtle is. To become adults, a leatherback probably takes at least 15 yr, maybe more. So, let's say that this turtle is at least 15, and might live another 30 or more years (again, an estimate).

Other sea turtle species can take more than 30 yr just to become adults!

Thanks for all of your interest!


By Bryan Wallace (not verified) on 18 Mar 2009 #permalink

Hi, wow i've never seen a turtle that big before. my question is are all turtles related in one way or another? they all look similar, even land turtles look a little like a sea turtle, except they have legs not fins.

So, are all turtle's, land and sea related?
thanks for helping out one of the most beautiful creatures on earth!!!
Peace, Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker (not verified) on 22 Mar 2009 #permalink

question..in post 85, you say the tracker comes off after about 2 years or there abouts..in post 69, you say sometimes the turtles don't even return to the beach for 2-10 years..do you follow these same turtles all the time? do you have to go replace the batteries before they die, so you could keep following those same turtles? or do you just find another turtle to follow?..

the first time i saw this i was like omg,
that's huge, but then my friend ashly
told me that you guys had to hurt it
to get it caught. i dispise hurting animals
too, but hey, this is a pretty kick butt picture

did that turtle live??
i love turtles

My mom would love this pic she is a big turtle and dragon fanatic her room is decoraten in mid evil stuff and she collects turtle stuff. She'll freak when I show her this pic.

By Kayla Anderson (not verified) on 06 Jul 2009 #permalink

Is there any possibility the leatherbacks you have outfitted with these devices are diving to such depths in order to free themselves of the device?

nooo! put it back in the sea where it belongs i feel so sad now! dont bring it out are they crazy!

By kujo kaiik (not verified) on 29 Aug 2009 #permalink

PEOPLE: read the article BEFORE commenting.
I care a great deal about the well being of animals and nature. I have to admit the picture does look concerning at first. I pray that these animals are truly getting the help they need and deserve. There is sometimes a fine line between helping and meddling, wouldn't you say?

I have enjoyed reading all, or I should say most of the comments (yes i have read them all). Thanks, most fascinating.
I love turtles, and they are often in my dreams. :)


I like Turtles.

By Zac Efron (not verified) on 24 Sep 2009 #permalink


Okay first of all leave those turtles alone!! Turtles
are my FAVORITE animals and I have a turtle and I dont care what you say but you are hurting that turtle he was fine without YOU ruining his life do you want a shark to rip off your skin and cover you in radios DIDNT THINK SO. Because now you just ruined his protection and he wont live THAT LONG So now think about this

By TURTLE LUVER (not verified) on 21 Oct 2009 #permalink



By reylvmey scale (not verified) on 07 Nov 2009 #permalink

all you animal lovers out there are stupid god put them on this earth for us to eat thats y we are on the top of the food chain u retards and they are just animals they dont have feelings and even if they did thats y they cant talk to tell us that shit

did you kill it??

you have to much time on your hands to pester the pore thing.

We have seen leatherbacks up around the northeast coast of Newfoundland the past couple years. My sister-inlaw hooked one this fall during the recreational cod fishery. She thought see was hooked in the bottom and the next thing it surfaced just before the line broke. She called us over and we were able to get a picture just as it dove down for a deep dive. While the picture isn't as good as what I saw and now still remember, it will bring me back to that day every time I see it.

You people keep up the good work!! While some don't believe in research and conservation it is very important if future generations stand a chance to enjoy what we do today.

By Peter Parsons (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

I think turtles are some of the sweetest creatures that ever lived on this planet. I especially have a softspot for sea turtles because they are gentle, no matter how big they get and gracefull in their preferred scene. I think it's really sad to think some are going extinct because they are eaten in some countries.

It is wonderful that there are people who care about them enough to try to save them and study them to make sure they are alright. I have only seen them in zoos but have actually been able able to stroke one. I'll treasure the moment for all of my life.

Some people don't like the idea of zoos but in some cases that it the safest place for certain animals and I feel that as long as they are well kept and happy wherever they are, it is fine. It would be such a shame if future generations were to miss out on such beauty and the softness of love these animals eminate because no one had the sense to do what these guys do.

Thanx for preserving the wonder


By Raven632010 (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

I spent some time in St. Croix with Earthwatch and many leatherbacks back in 2000. It was an amazing experience. Being as close to a leatherback as everyone in the photo above is an experience which I still cannot effectively describe. "humility" comes to mind, because here you are next to an animal that hasnt changed much since our ancestors were swinging from tree branches. The effects of researchers and scientists like the ones involved in this project are helping sea turtles around the world. I applaud your efforts, and wish I could patrol beaches in search of egg-laying mothers or emerging baby turtles as a full time job. It was an amazing experience.

woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow u guys are whores u really need to stop that!!!!!!!!!!!!!NOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!

By ciara mcgee (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

this is sooooo cool it is the biggest one i have ever seen :-O

I understand you guys are trying to help the turtles, but I'm sure you know they are extremely sensitive to light while they're nesting, i.e. camera flash! Very selfish to snap the photo, tag the turtle if you need to but it should be as non-invasive as possible. In the name of reserach, c'mon! It takes 5 guys to tag the turtle?!

I am a animal lover and I really feel that there can be a different way to perform your research without putting the animal at risk of injury .

By Elsie Lugo (not verified) on 18 Jan 2010 #permalink

wow nice turtle


My gods, a lot of people commenting on here seem to have not read the article at ALL. They put the damn turtle back in the ocean, that thing is not hurting it, it can be removed. No one is putting jewellry on turtles or keeping them as pets from the wild.
Who educated you people?

By Turtlover (not verified) on 21 Feb 2010 #permalink

You motherfuckers better leave those turtles alone!!!!

By Anonymous (not verified) on 23 Feb 2010 #permalink

If you hurt that turtle you suck eggs.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By cody carter (not verified) on 01 May 2010 #permalink

I hope you saved that turtle not hurt it. Because those leatherbacks are rare. And i love turtles so please save them and prevent them from being hurt. :)

By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink


By turtles rock (not verified) on 27 May 2010 #permalink

DANG thats a big turtule hey i am only 10 and i say it weaghs 2,000 pounds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~~~~~~~~

Our turtle papo likes your turtle :)

Also, where has everyone gotten the idea from that this turtle is being hurt? When I first saw the pic I thought they'd removed the shell, but after reading the article it's clear that's the way this turtle is supposed to be, with a leathery shell; it says in the article that these turtles need a softer back to withstand the deep sea pressure!

I don't see how the tag hurts it either, you people put collars on your cats and dogs and other animals (and eat them too).

This guy obv loves the turtles and has spent his life learning about them. Yay.

By papopapopapo (not verified) on 18 Jun 2010 #permalink