Leatherback Turtle found

by Kate C
Publish date
21 June 2011
Comments (8)

The body of an enormous female Leatherback Turtle was brought to Melbourne Museum on Thursday last week after washing up at Airey’s Inlet.

Leatherback Turtle The two metre female Leatherback Turtle in the Preparation Lab at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Veronica Scholes
Source: Museum Victoria

A member of the public spotted the ailing turtle while it was still alive. Local authorities called the Melbourne Aquarium, which runs the Turtle Rescue and Release Program that rehabilitates tropical turtles that have strayed into cold southern waters. Unfortunately the Leatherback Turtle was too unwell to save and it lived just a few more hours. It was brought to Melbourne Museum early on Thursday morning for post-mortem examination to work out why it died.

Melbourne Aquarium vet, Dr Rob Jones, says it’s only the second Leatherback Turtle to wash up in Victoria since 1999, with smaller species such as Green Sea Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles more commonly assisted by the successful Turtle Release and Rescue Program.

Dr Jones examined the turtle on Thursday afternoon. “The age is difficult to guess,” he explains. “She had an inactive ovary, so she was possibly still immature or had laid eggs within the last six months. But at two metres long, the size suggests she was mature.” He found a small ulcer in her intestine that was probably from parasite, and signs of dehydration, but no clear cause of death. “It was disappointing not to be able to find the answer.”

The skeleton of the turtle will become part of the Museum Victoria research collection, since complete skeletons of this species are rare. The museum will also retain soft tissues for the DNA collection and barnacles and mussels from its shell for the Marine Invertebrates collection.

Barnacles on the turtle shell Barnacles on the turtle's shell.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest living turtle and has the widest distribution of the sea turtles. Their soft shells are unique; other species have tough protective plates called scutes as a kind of external armour, but Leatherback Turtles have small bones embedded in tough leathery skin. Another distinctive feature of these animals is their diet – they eat mostly jellyfish and have evolved a mouth full of fleshy spines to grip their soft prey. They migrate long distances in search of food, often visiting southern waters near Victoria between January and May when the sea is warm.

Inside the mouth of a Leatherback Turtle Inside the mouth of a Leatherback Turtle. The fleshy spines are adaptations to a jellyfish diet.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

Leatherback Turtles are critically endangered and have suffered serious declines due to human activity. They are often drowned in fishing nets or choke when they mistake plastic bags for food.

Marine wildlife in need of rescue should be reported to the Department of Sustainability and Environment

  • Report stranded, entangled or sick penguins, turtles and seals to DSE on 136 186. 
  • Contact the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017 if you find stranded, entangled, sick or injured whales or dolphins.



Melbourne Aquarium Conservation Programs

WWF: Leatherback Turtles close to the brink

Shark Bay World Heritage Area: Leatherback Turtle fact sheet

BIRD: Leatherback Turtle

Comments (8)

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Ben L 22 June, 2011 09:07
What an amazing animal! What are all the extra rows of teeth in its mouth?
Lucy 22 June, 2011 13:37
Absolutely incredible!
Kaylene 4 July, 2011 14:43
WOW what an amazing creature, don't we live on an amazing planet. Hear is a reason for conservation for our childrens children.
Anne 4 July, 2011 17:59
Wonder if they tested its blood for nuclear contamination from the Japanese tsunami etc. As a wildlife rescue/rehab volunteer its so very sad to see another beautiful animal affected this way with no autopsy cause - would love to know the blood work though
Carey 5 July, 2011 12:10
My son was on school camp down at Angelsea when authorities came to collect this beautiful creature. He couldn't believe it's size. I hope it is put on display for everyone to marvel.
Oliver 20 April, 2012 00:20
It's reasons like this poor girl that i aspire to become a marine biologist because this a very inspiring story and just a beautiful creature.
Imogen 23 January, 2014 21:02
Turtles are so amazing.
Naturesprite 13 May, 2014 23:17
I find these creatures absolutely fascinating. It has been argued that they are categorically more successful than any other living reptile. Firstly, it's the largest of all living reptiles by a certain yardstick. Secondly, it's the fastest-travelling and deepest-diving of all living reptiles. Thirdly, in a surprisingly large portion of the world, it's the only reptile that occurs at all. And fourthly, it is - like the world's largest mammals and fishes – a consumer of prey so insubstantial that most people don't think of them as prey in the first place. http://www.explorebioedge.com/bio-edge-blog/item/25-lateral-thoughts-on-the-leatherback-turtle.html
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