July 22, 2024

Leatherback turtle numbers stun Canadian scientists

A surprisingly large number of endangered leatherback sea turtles were spotted off Canada’s East Coast this summer, boggling scientists who’ve long thought that few of the huge reptiles ventured so far north.

Mike James, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, hopes the recorded sightings put to rest the idea that Atlantic leatherbacks – the world’s largest sea turtles – are an anomaly off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

His research, collected over the past five years, indicates the turtles regularly make the pilgrimage north from the sunny South American and Caribbean beaches where they were born to feast on fields of jellyfish near the Scotian Shelf.

“We had an incredible number of leatherbacks reported this year,” James says. “I can’t tell you exactly what was going on out there, because I don’t know. But turtles were relatively abundant this year – certainly more abundant than in the last four or five years.”

Two-hundred turtles were spotted in 1998 by fishermen and researchers – far more than had been documented over the past century. That number has at least doubled this year, says James.

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Leatherback Turtle Watching in Trinidad

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Conan Gray
359 days ago