Hello, I’m Bumpy, a Western Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle. The largest of all the 7 species of sea turtles, I migrate across the Pacific Ocean (from Asia to California, USA, over 6,000 miles!!) feasting on jellies.
Recently I had a strange adventure. I was happily swimming along looking for jellies to eat when bam! I couldn’t swim any longer. Something was tied behind my shoulders. Soon I was pulled out of the water. I hadn’t been out of the water since I was a hatchling racing towards the ocean after busting out of my egg shell! The water usually buoys me up, but man have I put on some weight (1,419 pounds to be exact).
Then again, maybe I have been out of the water since. Scientists recognized me from when they pulled me out of the water in 2016 to weigh and measure me. They named me Bumpy for the marks on my carapace (soft-shelled back) that I got from some ship strikes. Now that’s a story for another time.
I’m probably 20-25 years old, but who’s counting? I’m only halfway through my life, assuming I survive the perils ahead of me. Ships can strike leatherback sea turtles at the surface because we’re hard to see (I’m case in point).
Leatherback sea turtles (as well as other sea turtles) can get tangled in fishing gear, be illegally poached (our eggs especially) or have reduced nesting sites in places such as Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Don’t get me started on all the plastic in the ocean, especially because I can’t tell the difference from a plastic bag full of water or a jelly full of water.
Like most large animals in the ocean, we can be by-catch from different fisheries. Gill nets are very thin nets made of almost transparent monofilaments that are stretched out for miles. Big fish, like swordfish are targeted but any animal that runs into the net including sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and seabirds get caught. They drown because they can’t get to the surface for air (like me) or because they can’t swim anymore to breathe (like sharks).
After taking biological samples from me (ow!) the scientists fitted me with new acoustic and satellite tags. They’re a drag, so to speak, but worth it to my kind if scientists can learn enough about us to help save our remaining population.
Unfortunately I’m endangered and our Western Pacific leatherback sea turtle population has declined by 80% in the last 30 years. Scientists estimate that only 55 leatherback sea turtles return to the coast of California now. My ancestors are 100 million years old—older than the dinosaurs but alas, we cannot contend with all the problems humans throw our way.
Fortunately in California (but not the rest of the world) there are rules that protect us from getting potentially entangled in fishing gear. The Dungeness crab fishery is “delayed indefinitely” due to our presence. Sorry to all you crab-eating humans out there, but I appreciate your patience as we feast on jellies in the area!
This post was inspired by this San Francisco Chronicle article, “Researchers encountered a 1,419 pound leatherback sea turtle off California coast. Turns out they’ve met him before.”