The minimum size of leatherbacks at reproductive maturity, with a review of sizes for nesting females from the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins

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Abstract:

Although sea turtles are globally distributed, data are mainly collected on nesting beaches where researchers have access to adult females. Studies on general reproductive parameters (e.g. clutch size) and morphometrics (e.g. carapace length) are most common. Of the sea turtle species, leatherbacks appear to grow quickly to a large size and may reach sexual maturity faster than the hard-shelled sea turtles. Small reproductive female leatherbacks have been recorded on nesting beaches since the 1930s, although presently leatherbacks with <145 cm curved carapace length (CCL) are generally considered to be juveniles. We reviewed values from published literature to investigate the occurrence of small females, and added new empirical data from Florida. Reproductive females as small as 105–125 cm CCL have been observed at most leatherback nesting rookeries and their nests have produced viable hatchlings. We also summarized the sizes of nesting females from Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean populations and found that size varies by location and population. We suggest that small mature female leatherbacks (<145 cm) should be considered when studying population dynamics and caution should be exercised if classification of stranded animals as adult or juvenile is based on size alone.

Keywords: CCL; CURVED CARAPACE LENGTH; DERMOCHELYS CORIACEA; FLORIDA; LIFE HISTORY CHARACTERS; REPRODUCTION; SEA TURTLE; SEXUAL MATURITY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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