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Leather Back Turtle

Region: CCWHC Atlantic


The skeleton of a Leather Back Turtle is being articulated and mounted this year. This will be the third skeleton to be mounted from specimens originally received as necropsies by CCWHC Atlantic. An Atlantic white-sided dolphin and a harp seal, the previously completed skeletons, are now proudly displayed in the new Learning Commons area of the Atlantic Veterinary College.

The skeleton comes from a 270 kg. male leatherback turtle that was found stranded on a beach at Petite Riviere Bridge, Nova Scotia (44.23o N 64.42o West), on 25 October 2008. With the help of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans the turtle was tagged and guided into deeper water. It had been crawling on the beach in circles, swam in circles and zig zags in open water, and appeared disorientated. On 30 October 2008 the animal was found dead at Broad Cove, Nova Scotia. It was sent for necropsy to the CCWHC, at the Atlantic Veterinary College, Prince Edward Island, Canada, where Dr. Daoust diagnosed a meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and the membrane around it). The lesion in its brain explains the turtle's disorientation and was probably caused by a bacterial infection.


Leatherback Turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, are an endangered species in Atlantic Canadian waters. They can be 2m in length and weigh over 900kg making the them the heaviest reptiles on Earth. Some of their skeletal features make them an interesting animal to articulate and mount their skeleton. Their top shell (carapace) can be over 1.5m 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.

by Grant Curtis

Source: National Geographic for species information and BoneRoom for the photo of the skeleton.