Leatherback Sea Turtle Pacific population
Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Pacific Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2012
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2abd
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: The Pacific population of this species has collapsed by over 90% in the last generation. Continuing threats include fisheries bycatch, marine debris, coastal and offshore resource development, illegal harvest of eggs and turtles, and climate change.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Endangered in April 1981. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2001. Split into two populations in May 2012. The Pacific population was designated Endangered in May 2012.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
Leatherback Sea Turtles are the last remaining member of the family Dermochelyidae, an evolutionary lineage thought to be 100-150 million years old. Leatherbacks are the largest of the sea turtle species, weighing in up to 900 kg with a shell length of up to 2 m. The Leatherback is the only sea turtle that does not have a hard shell. Instead, its shell is covered with leathery, slightly flexible, fibrous tissue overlaying interlocking bony plates. The bluish-black shell has seven front-to-back ridges and tapers to a blunt point, creating a hydrodynamic teardrop-shaped structure. Their front flippers are proportionally longer than other sea turtles’, often half as long as its shell. Unlike other sea turtles, Leatherbacks’ flippers have no claws. The shell, neck, head, and front flippers are often covered in white or bluish-white blotches. Adult Leatherback Sea Turtles have a distinct pink patch on top of their heads, which is unique in size, shape, colour, and pattern. Leatherbacks feed primarily on gelatinous prey, such as jellyfish and salps. They do not have the chewing plates found in other sea turtle species; instead they have sharp edged jaws and backward-pointing spines lining their mouth and esophagus, that help to retain and swallow soft-bodied prey. (Updated 2017/01/19)
Distribution and Population
Ranging further than any other reptile, the global population of Leatherback Sea Turtles is comprised of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, located in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and extending from approximately 71°N to approximately 47°S. There are two populations of Leatherbacks that enter Canadian waters: the Atlantic population, found off the coasts of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; and the Pacific population, off the coast of British Columbia. (Updated 2017/01/19)
The Pacific Leatherback has two principal nesting populations: one in the Eastern Pacific, including beaches in Mexico and Costa Rica; and one in the Western Pacific, including beaches in Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. Leatherback Sea Turtles in Canadian Pacific waters are part of the Western Pacific population, migrating long distances (up to 15,000km) from the Indo-Pacific nesting beaches, to forage on jellyfish and other gelatinous prey species. Leatherbacks are rarely observed in Canadian Pacific waters, with only 126 unique sightings reported in British Columbia waters from 1931 to 2009. The pelagic nature of this species, combined with the difficulty in sighting them from a distance result in many unknowns with respect to their use of habitat off the coast of British Columbia. The Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle has exhibited declines of up to 95% in the last 50 years and is Endangered. (Updated 2017/01/19)
Females lay approximately 100 eggs each time, several times during a nesting season, typically at 8 to 12 day intervals. They remigrate to the nesting site every 2 to 3 years. Hatchlings emerge from the nest after approximately two months, and make their way down the beach to the ocean. Nesting and hatchling emergence usually occur at night, possibly to avoid predation and, for the hatchlings, to decrease the risk of desiccation as they make their way to the ocean. (Updated 2017/01/19)
On Indo-Pacific nesting beaches, Leatherback eggs are subject to predation by mammals such as pigs and feral dogs. Nest predation by humans can also be a problem, as Leatherback eggs are consumed as a delicacy in some countries. Increased development on or near nesting beaches has a negative impact on the hatchlings that emerge from nests, as they are often disoriented by the bright lights and can succumb to exhaustion, dehydration, or predation as they struggle to find their way to the ocean. Although female Leatherbacks lay about 100 eggs at a time and may nest up to 10 times a season, only a few hatchlings will survive to grow to adulthood and breed. Leatherback Sea Turtles are vulnerable to human-induced threats in the marine environment throughout their lives. There is substantial evidence that they are incidentally caught in numerous fisheries, and entanglement in fishing gear is not uncommon. While many fishers are careful to release trapped Leatherbacks, some turtles drown or sustain lethal injuries before assistance is given. Leatherbacks can also become tangled in discarded debris, collide with vessels, or mistake drifting plastic bags and debris for jellyfish prey, the ingestion of which can lead to obstruction of the digestive system and ultimately death from starvation. (Updated 2017/01/19)
The Leatherback Sea Turtle, Pacific population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Pacific Region Species at Risk Program
DFO Pacific Region - MPO région du Pacifique - Chair/Contact - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Recovery Progress and Activities
Several achievements contributing to the recovery of the species have been realized in recent years. The West Pacific population of the Leatherback Sea Turtle is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which sets controls on the international trade and movement of species that have been, or may be, threatened due to commercial exploitation. Canada is a member of CITES, and restricts movement or trade of listed species (or parts from listed species) across its borders. The Leatherback Sea Turtle is protected in Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). The Recovery Strategy for Leatherback Sea Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in Pacific Canadian waters has been finalized, and an action plan is being finalized. For more information, visit the SARA Registry Website at www.SARAregistry.gc.ca (Updated 2017/01/19)
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
16 record(s) found.
- Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (2 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- Permits and Related Agreements (6 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2011-2012 (2012-10-05)Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (September 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) from November 21 to 25, 2011 and from April 29 to May 4, 2012. On February 3, 2012, an Emergency Assessment Subcommittee of COSEWIC also assessed the status of the Tri-colored Bat (Perimyotis subflavus), the Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), and the Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). During the current reporting period COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 67 wildlife species. For species already found on Schedule 1 of SARA, the classification of 32 species was reviewed by COSEWIC and the status of the wildlife species was confirmed to be in the same category (extirpated - no longer found in the wild in Canada but occurring elsewhere, endangered, threatened or of special concern). The wildlife species assessment results for the 2011-2012 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 1 Extirpated: 4 Endangered: 29 Threatened: 10 Special Concern: 15 Data Deficient: 2 Not at Risk: 6 Total: 67 Of the 67 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 49 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment (see Table 1a).