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ESR 37:149-163 (2018)  -  DOI:

Prevalence of visible injuries to leatherback sea turtles Dermochelys coriacea in the Northwest Atlantic

Devan W. Archibald1, Michael C. James2,*

1Canadian Sea Turtle Network, Halifax, NS B3L 2T2, Canada
2Population Ecology Division, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Identification and understanding of various patterns of injury in marine species such as cetaceans and sea turtles can elucidate corresponding threats and inform conservation efforts. Here we used standardized external injury assessments to investigate the relative importance of direct anthropogenic and natural threats to the Northwest Atlantic population of leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea, and to evaluate whether susceptibility to these threats varies between low-latitude nesting and high-latitude foraging regions, and by sex and size (i.e. age). We sampled leatherbacks foraging in temperate waters off Nova Scotia, Canada (n = 92), and at a nesting beach in Trinidad, West Indies (n = 137), where, combined, 62% of turtles exhibited characteristic markings associated with at least 1 injury (i.e. entanglement scarring, amputations, bites, etc.). There were no significant differences in injury rate or type between regions or between sexes or size classes. The proportion of leatherbacks exhibiting injuries of suspected anthropogenic origin (34%) was significantly higher (p < 0.001) than the proportion with injuries of suspected predatory origin (16%), but did not exceed the proportion with injuries of unknown origin (34%). Nineteen percent exhibited injuries indicative of entanglement in rope, lines, or nets, and 17% showed evidence of potential interaction with hooks. These results suggest that the Northwest Atlantic leatherback population faces common and possibly widely distributed threats from both predators and fishing gear across its range and are consistent with growing evidence positing fisheries bycatch as one of the principal direct threats facing this species.

KEY WORDS: Injury · Threats · Bycatch · Dermochelys coriacea · Sea turtle · Predation · Entanglement · Trauma

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Cite this article as: Archibald DW, James MC (2018) Prevalence of visible injuries to leatherback sea turtles Dermochelys coriacea in the Northwest Atlantic. Endang Species Res 37:149-163.

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