Leatherback turtles back in earnest

by on August 02, 2012

With neon pink and orange markings framing its' crown, this Pacific Leatherback turtle stands out among the murky water. Photo credit: Blue Ocean Whale Watch (www.blueoceanwhalewatch.com)

Pacific Leatherback Turtles have been spotted in the coastal waters south of San Francisco earlier than ever before.

Sightings of sea turtles are rapidly approaching last years’ 23, with 17 showing off their thick shells so far, and it’s earlier than their usual arrival time in August.

“That’s pretty amazing. There’s still a lot that is not known, so every sighting you get is critical,” said Chris Pincetich, marine biologist with SeaTurtles.org.

He relays information on each sighting to marine biologists who are preparing to do field work in early August.

The leatherbacks journey from the Far East to the West Coast of North America to feast on brown sea nettle jellyfish, a culinary adaptation that’s helped ensure the leatherback’s 70 million years of existence.

In early July marine biologists reported the most abundant and dense jellyfish bloom seen in years, Pincetich said. A week later the ancient creatures started showing up, first in Monterey Bay, then by Santa Cruz, and now they are up to Half Moon Bay.

On February 27, 2012, this critical habitat was finalized offshore from San Francisco Bay to protect the leatherback’s feeding grounds.

Life isn’t always easy for the Pacific leatherback turtle, whose population has plummeted by up to 95 percent in past several decades.  The Sea Turtle Restoration Project has pushed for laws to better protect leatherbacks in California. A bill to designate leatherbacks as California’s official state marine reptile is in the Senate, and is expected to pass by September. The bill gives the leatherbacks some extra PR, but more importantly encourages leatherback education in public schools, recording of sightings, and communication about conservation practices with the turtles’ birth home, Indonesia.

In February, almost 17,000 square miles of offshore waters surrounding the San Francisco Bay were deemed a protected marine area for leatherbacks. Activities that harm the jellyfish require special consideration, and drift gillnets have been banned.

“The designation is a huge victory for the sea turtle, protection of its food and the awareness of this creature which is basically a living dinosaur,” Pincetich said.

The fishery regulations don’t take affect until August 15, and there’s no time to lose since a dead leatherback washed ashore in Monterey late last week.

Do you want to see the largest and oldest turtle on earth? SeaTurtles.org is teaming up with whale watching cruises to host several leatherback watch parties from August to October.


Giant Pacific leatherback turtle washed up dead off island in central Philippines | Lola Jane's World on August 2nd, 2012 at 1:20 pm

[…] article on the website BayNature.org indicated that Pacific Leatherback Turtles have been spotted in the coastal waters south of San […]

Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. on August 2nd, 2012 at 4:11 pm

PHOTO Credit above is Blue Ocean Whale Watch, http://www.blueoceanwhalewatch.com/

garlicbeth on August 4th, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Great Article .. gotta love the leatherback

ACE Coinage on August 8th, 2012 at 5:53 am

Life remains a continual cycle of swimming, eating, and sleeping until sexual maturity at 13 years into life. Upon reaching this stage, males seek to mate with any willing companion, employing seduction techniques including nuzzling and biting. Capable of fertilization from multiple males in the same season, females are often polyandrous – although this behavior does not seem to result in any reproductive advantages.

raoul diblasi on August 8th, 2012 at 10:40 am

It’s wonderful to read good news concerning the status of wildlife.All too often the opposite is true.I am proud to be a part of STRP and the good work you do.

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