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Endangered Leatherback turtle an unusual find

17 January 2006

Endangered Leatherback turtle an unusual find

Department of Conservation staff have taken samples to learn more about the biology of the rare and critically endangered leatherback turtle washed up in Golden Bay last week.

Minister of Fisheries Jim Anderton said it was unusual to find leatherback turtles in Golden Bay. "Leatherbacks are typically found in warmer temperatures than those in Golden Bay; however fishers have recently been observing more warm water species in the area. It is possible this turtle came south due to the warm weather and water temperatures we have been experiencing lately."

The turtle was discovered floating in the Challenger Scallop Company spat catching site in Golden Bay offshore of Tarakohe Harbour. A staff member on board a Challenger vessel identified the turtle as a leatherback and promptly informed the District Compliance Manager of the Ministry of Fisheries in accordance with the Wildlife Act. The turtle drifted from the position in which it was first found to Wainui Bay.

"Leatherback turtles are a protected species under the Wildlife Act, and according to law members of the public are not allowed to be in possession of them," Jim Anderton said.

It is not known whether the turtle became entangled in the spat catching equipment or drifted dead into the site. However the Challenger Scallop Company are already working with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to look at the future deployment of spat catching gear and developing a code of practice to ensure any risks to turtles are minimised.

Note: The leatherback turtle is listed as critically endangered. It takes leatherbacks eight ? 15 years to reach reproductive maturity.

Leatherbacks lay 50 ? 180 eggs per nest and incubation takes 50 ? 55 days. Hatchlings are very small and are vulnerable to predators, both land and water based. Scientists estimate that only 1 in 1000 leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood.

The world population of the leatherback is estimated between 30,000 and 40,000. In 1980 there were over 115,000 adult females but now there are less than 25,000 worldwide.



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