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Breaking World Record: Leatherback Turtle Dives Deeper Than a Navy Sub (4,409 feet)

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

In an astonishing feat of nature, a Western Pacific leatherback turtle has broken the world record for the deepest turtle dive. This remarkable event was documented earlier this year when the leatherback, tagged and monitored by The Nature Conservancy, reached a depth of 4,409 feet (1,344 meters) beneath the ocean surface. This depth surpasses the previous Guinness World Record of 4,199 feet (1,280 meters) for the deepest turtle dive, also held by a leatherback turtle.

Context of the Record-Breaking Dive

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

For context, this dive depth is notably deeper than that achieved by most Navy submarines, which typically go down to around 2,950 feet (900 meters). The deepest human scuba dive recorded is 1,090 feet (332 meters). The leatherback’s dive, therefore, is not only a testament to the species’ incredible adaptability but also highlights the remarkable physiological capabilities of these ancient reptiles.

Ongoing Research and Conservation Efforts

leatherback sea turtle
©Dustin Haney/Unsplash.com

The deep dive was part of an ongoing satellite tracking study aimed at protecting leatherback turtles, which are critically endangered. Peter Waldie, a marine scientist leading The Nature Conservancy’s Solomon Islands Program, described the deep dive and the turtles’ migratory behavior as “truly spectacular.” He emphasized the impressive nature of these creatures, particularly their ability to undertake such profound dives and extensive migrations across the Pacific Ocean.

Leatherback Adaptations

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

Leatherback turtles have evolved various adaptations to facilitate their deep dives. Despite being air breathers, they can hold their breath for around 90 minutes. Their unique carapace (upper shell) is designed to contract and expand with pressure changes, allowing them to withstand the immense pressures of the deep ocean. Scientists theorize that these deep dives are primarily for foraging, as leatherbacks dive to feed on jellyfish, which inhabit various depths of the ocean.

Conservation Significance

Leatherback turtle is the largest of all living turtles and is the fourth heaviest modern reptile behind three crocodilians, vintage line drawing or engraving illustration. Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

The Solomon Islands’ nesting leatherbacks are part of the critically endangered Western Pacific population, with only an estimated 1,400 breeding adults remaining. Waldie highlighted the importance of every breeding adult and nest in conservation efforts. Since 2022, Waldie and his team have tagged 17 leatherbacks nesting in Isabel Province, where local community rangers protect the turtles and their eggs from threats such as poaching and predators.

The Record-Breaking Turtle: Uke Sasakolo

Leatherback turtle low poly model, African animal abstract graphics, reptile polygonal wireframe vector illustration on dark blue background. Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

The record-breaking leatherback was named “Uke Sasakolo,” meaning “from Sasakolo,” after laying her eggs at the Sasakolo nesting beach. She achieved the record-breaking dive on March 25, shortly after departing from her nesting site. This achievement not only showcases the physical prowess of these turtles but also underscores the critical need for their protection.

Future Research Directions

© National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. Wikimedia Commons

Further research aims to understand the migration patterns of leatherbacks better. For instance, another tagged turtle, named “Aunty June,” migrated from the Solomon Islands across the Pacific to the feeding grounds off the coast of Baja California in Mexico. This research could reveal whether different nesting subpopulations of leatherbacks head to distinct foraging areas, providing crucial insights for conservation strategies.

What is a Leatherback Turtle?

© AIMM Portugal YouTube

The leatherback turtle, scientifically known as Dermochelys coriacea, is the largest of all sea turtles and the fourth-heaviest modern reptile, only surpassed by three crocodile species.

How Large Can Leatherback Turtles Get?

Leatherbacks can grow up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) in length and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms), making them the largest sea turtle species.

What Makes Leatherback Turtles Unique Among Sea Turtles?

leatherback sea turtle
©Jakob Owens/Unsplash.com

Unlike other sea turtles, leatherbacks lack a hard shell. Instead, they have a leathery carapace composed of connective tissue and covered by a thin layer of tough, rubbery skin.

How Long Can Leatherback Turtles Hold Their Breath?

leatherback sea turtle

Leatherback turtles can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes. This allows them to dive deep into the ocean to forage for food.

How Deep Can Leatherback Turtles Dive?

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherbacks are the deepest-diving reptiles, capable of reaching depths of up to 4,409 feet (1,344 meters) as recorded by recent studies.

What Do Leatherback Turtles Eat?

leatherback sea turtle

Leatherback turtles primarily feed on jellyfish, which they hunt throughout the ocean, following their prey to various depths.

Where Do Leatherback Turtles Nest?

leatherback sea turtle

Leatherback turtles nest on sandy beaches in tropical and subtropical regions. Significant nesting sites include the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and Costa Rica.

What Are the Migration Patterns of Leatherback Turtles?

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherbacks are highly migratory, often traveling across entire ocean basins. They migrate between their feeding grounds and nesting sites, sometimes covering thousands of miles.

Why Are Leatherback Turtles Critically Endangered?

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

Leatherback turtles face numerous threats, including habitat loss, climate change, entanglement in fishing gear, and poaching of eggs and adults. Their population has significantly declined, especially in the Pacific.

What Conservation Efforts Are in Place to Protect Leatherback Turtles?

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

Conservation efforts include protecting nesting sites, regulating fisheries to prevent bycatch, and international cooperation to ensure safe migratory routes. Organizations like The Nature Conservancy work closely with local communities to protect these endangered turtles.

Conclusion

Leatherback. Image via Depositphotos

The extraordinary dive by Uke Sasakolo serves as a powerful reminder of the marvels of the natural world and the urgent need to protect these incredible creatures. As conservationists continue to study and safeguard leatherbacks, every new discovery brings us closer to ensuring the survival of this magnificent species.

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