Leatherback sea turtle found in the Shubenacadie River, NS

A Leatherback sea turtle was found alive 20 km up the Shubenacadie River, Nova Scotia on August 17, 2012.  After monitoring, it subsequently died two days later and was brought to the Atlantic Veterinary College by members of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  Biologists, veterinarians, technicians and students had a unique opportunity to participate in a post mortem examination to determine the cause of death. The male turtle was in poor body condition with no obvious cause of death.  Numerous samples were taken for analysis to better understand the species and why this animal was located in such an unusual location.

Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are considered an endangered species in Atlantic Canadian and American waters. The biggest threat to this species includes entanglement in fishing gear and loss of eggs and hatchlings to predation and harvest.  Leatherback sea turtles can be 2m in length and weigh over 900kg making them the heaviest reptiles on Earth, feeding predominantly on jellyfish. Their top shell (carapace) can be over 1.5 m. long and over 1m wide. Other species of marine turtles have hard

shells of large, boney plates.  Leatherback turtle carapaces are composed of hundreds of small interconnected bones which resemble a jigsaw puzzle in size and design. The dorsal side of the spine is interconnected to the carapace with a high proportion of cartilage. The carapace is covered by a thick leather-like skin. There are also 5 longitudinal ridges for more hydrodynamic strength. These features make the shell and body flexible and the adults can dive to 1 280m for up to 85 minutes. This is deeper than other marine turtles and equivalent to depths reached by some marine mammals.

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