Leatherback Sea Turtles Are On the Move!
March marks the start of the sea turtle nesting season and leatherbacks are usually the first to arrive. Leatherbacks are pelagic by nature, so they are rarely seen by recreational divers, but the odds improve considerably during nesting season and Jupiter Dive Center can help!
How to Recognize a Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest and deepest diving of the sea turtles. They typically weigh between 700 and 1500 pounds at maturity and can reach lengths between 4 and 8 feet. Unlike other sea turtles, leatherbacks lack hard shells. Instead, their elongated carapaces are composed of a thin, tough rubbery skin that is dark gray or black with pale spots. Seven ridges run the length of the carapace. The largest leatherback ever recorded clocked in at a staggering 2,019 pounds and measured nearly 9 feet from beak to tail, an amazing feat considering leatherbacks feed almost exclusively on jellyfish (and consume their body weight daily).
Nesting Along the Palm Beach and Treasure Coasts
Palm Beach County beaches are not only some of the most densely nested in Florida, but along the entire coastal United States. According to recently released statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, leatherback sea turtles created a total of 949 nests across the state. That was 286 more than reported in 2017. Nesting occurs when females crawl ashore, but it’s their travel to the beaches that increases the likelihood of being spotted by divers.
Leatherbacks are typically found beyond the offshore sites frequented by recreational divers, capable of going far deeper than a diver’s limits. The majority of their time is spent swimming in the upper 900 feet of the water column, but leatherbacks routinely dive deeper than 3,000 feet. It’s that depth that accounts for their pliable shell. As pressure increases, the leatherback’s shell compresses. However, their shell is only one of their adaptations that allow them to explore depths few other creatures can reach. Their lungs are collapsible, which helps them avoid decompression issues. Factor in their slowed heart rate, the ability to store oxygen in their blood and muscles, and the ability stay underwater for long lengths of time; one thing becomes clear, leatherbacks are designed to go deep. Fortunately for divers, nesting season brings sea turtles closer to shore. This provides divers an opportunity to get a glimpse at nature’s most exclusive sea turtles.
How To Spot A Leatherback
Look up! Divers tend to look forward to see where they are going or down as they explore reefs, while turtles are most often hanging out on the surface. During your ascent, make sure to turn so you can take in a full 360 degree-view.
Want To Learn More?
Sea Turtle classes start in May! Jupiter Dive Center has been a longtime partner with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach to support the protection of our local sea turtles. Together, we offer an exclusive opportunity to spend a morning at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center learning more about the sea turtles, then scuba dive with Jupiter Dive Center in the afternoon and identify the different species in their natural habitat! Click here for more information.
Already been through the class? Click here to reserve your seat on one of our charters and remember to look up!