Leatherback Sea Turtles
The leatherback sea turtle is the only species of marine turtle common to the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the most widely traveled of all the seven species of marine turtles. Leatherbacks have been sighted off all the coasts of Newfoundland and as far north as Nain, Labrador from mid-summer to late fall, although they have also been seen in the cold waters of early spring. Leatherbacks in Newfoundland and Labrador waters have an average weight of around 360 kilograms but they can grow much larger, to almost 1 ton. Tagging studies have shown that known leatherbacks in our waters have nested in the Caribbean basin and South America. A female leatherback was discovered entangled in cod gill-nets in Placentia Bay in September 1987. A flipper tag showed the animal was tagged 128 days earlier on breeding beach in French Guiana.
A second adult female leatherback was discovered at Griquet on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland on October 24, 2010. This animal's flipper had been tagged the previous year in Costa Rica in the Caribbean at the Pacure Nature Reserve.
The Whale Release and Strandings records have the earliest sighting of a leatherback in our water near the Ferryland lighthouse in 1952. Records from the Whale Research Group and the Whale Release and Strandings group list 180 individual sightings. Eighty-one leatherbacks have been reported entrapped in fishing gear in Newfoundland and Labrador waters. Our group responds to gear-entrapped leatherbacks and provides information to fishers on how to safely release them while entangled. The Whale Release and Strandings Group responds to live and dead stranded leatherbacks to provide safe and proper reentry, and to collect valuable scientific information from dead animals.
Three flipper-tagged female leatherbacks have been documented here from nesting beaches in:
(1) French Guinea – Fox Harbour, Placentia Bay in 1987,
(2) Costa Rica – Griquet, Great Northern Peninsula in 2009 and
(3) Trinidad – Cape Onion, Great Northern Peninsula in 2014.