Pelagic by nature, leatherback sea turtles are seldom spotted by divers. That’s about to change. Join Jupiter Dive Center and improve your odds of encountering one of these majestic sea creatures. Read on to find out why they’re here and how to spot them.
First Some Leatherback Basics
Critically endangered, 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. The largest leatherback ever recorded clocked in at a staggering 2,019 pounds and measured nearly 9 feet from beak to tail.
Leatherback sea turtles feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, eating their body weight of the gelatinous animals on a daily basis.
A Bit About Their Normal Habitat
Leatherbacks are typically found beyond the offshore sites frequented by recreational divers, and are capable of going far deeper than a diver’s limits. Although the majority of their time is spent swimming in the upper 900 feet of the water column, leatherbacks routinely dive deeper than 3,000 feet. Unlike other species of sea turtles, the leatherback has a soft shell that resembles leather (hence their name). As pressure increases, the leatherback’s shell compresses. But 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, and leatherbacks are designed to go deep.
So Why Are The Leatherbacks Here?
Simple. It’s nesting season—and Palm Beach County beaches are not only some of the most densely nested in Florida, but along the entire coastal United States. Leatherback sea turtles are the first to arrive (followed by loggerheads, greens, and Hawksbills) and nesting season generally begins in March.
Nesting occurs at night when the female crawls ashore. Using her powerful flippers, she’ll dig a nest above the high-tide mark, deposit her eggs, cover the nest with sand and return to the ocean. The whole event takes anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. A female leatherback will typically nest between 4 to 7 times per season and lay an average of 80 fertilized eggs in each clutch. While most other sea turtle eggs are the size of a ping-pong ball, a leatherback egg is closer to the size of a billiard ball.
How To Spot A Leatherback
Look up! Divers tend to look forward to see where they are going or down as they explore reefs, but turtles are most often seen on the surface. During nesting season, leatherbacks are closer to shore than at any other time of year. Book your charter now.
Want To Learn More?
Jupiter Dive Center has been a long-term partner with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach to support the protection of our local turtles. Together, we offer an exclusive opportunity to spend a morning at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center to learn more about the sea turtles, and then scuba dive with Jupiter Dive Center in the afternoon and identify the different species in their natural habitat! Click here for more information.