The “Inside” Scoop: Leatherback Sea Turtle

Hey y’all,

Last week I found full episodes on Youtube of an educational anatomy show called Inside Nature’s Giants, and I am slightly obsessed with it after only watching one episode. The series goes through large animal necropsies and explains about the animal’s unique anatomy, a little about their evolution (by Richard Dawkins!), and interesting facts about their ecology. (Or this is what I have gathered from reviews and watching one episode). As I love this show so much, I was going to make a blog series about the available episodes on Youtube. I will also make The “Inside” Scoop its own page on my blog so that the posts are easily accessible for the other necropsy nerds out there. I realize that plenty of people do not share my enthusiasm for anatomy and physiology, so in each post, I will also give time breakdowns in case you only want to tune in for the evolution or ecology clips of the episodes. If you do not want to tempt fate (or your stomach) by even loading the video, just stick to reading my highlights below. So without further ado, Inside Nature’s Giants: The Leatherback Sea Turtle (viewer discretion advised). 🙂


Leatherback sea turtle

The adult, male leatherback sea turtle featured in the episode died shortly after stranding. The turtle’s left flipper had been amputated by a boat strike.

6:15 – Follows biologists during nighttime sea turtle nesting patrols. This segment includes video of a female Loggerhead nesting on the beach. Watching the females nest in real life is rather spectacular. As a sea turtle monitor, I patrolled beaches for nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. These turtles are the only species of sea turtle that nests predominantly during the day! My favorite part of the nesting ritual to watch was the “turtle dance” when the mother is covering and tamping down her nest.

8:55 – Richard Dawkins explains that sea turtles descended from land tortoises, which is why they still have to return to land to nest.

10:30 – Necropsy begins! Researchers believe there was something wrong with the animal before it was struck by the boat. While smaller sea turtles can be released with some of their flippers missing and do just fine in the wild, this is not the case for leatherbacks. There is a cool clip around 12:07 about a sea turtle that got prosthetic flippers! If you like this topic, check out BST’s posts: Sea Turtle Tale and Sea Turtle Hatchlings Inspire Flipperbot.

12:35 – Explanation about the leatherback’s plastron (belly plate). Evidently, leatherbacks have reduced plastron bones compared to other sea turtles. Leatherbacks fill this void with a thick layer of fat that also helps them maintain a warm core body temperature.

16:11 – The video showcases an image of Archelon, a sea turtle from 70 mya that was THREE times bigger than leatherbacks (which can already weigh up to a ton!)

16:30 – Sea turtle nest excavation! Unfortunately, this is a nest that encountered a lot of problems, including weather events and fire ants.

20:20 – Back to the necropsy laboratory to check out the digestive tract! Clearly, the coolest feature here is the leatherback’s amazing esophageal papillae. I would highly recommend checking out this part. The long, apparently rather sharp, papillae allow the leatherback to store jellyfish within their esophagus temporarily while their esophageal muscles contract, thereby pushing out excess sea water but keeping the jellies safely inside. They did not show a great shot of the papillae in a complete esophagus, but you can also follow this link to see a clip of an intact esophagus.

29:38 – Impacts of humans on sea turtle survival. This section shows efforts made by scientists to relocate sea turtle nests after the Deep Water Horizon spill.

32:18 – Leatherback reproductive tract. Interestingly, sea turtles do not have a seminal tube, rather just a seminal groove that carries the sperm to the female. The males also have a bulbous end to their penis that helps them stay attached to the female while mating. If you love turtle reproductive anatomy, check out this page: Terrifying sex organs of male turtles. The turtles could give ducks a run for their money… but that is another post for another day…

35:55 – Why do sea turtles cry? Apparently, sea turtles are frequently seen “crying” while on land. However, the researchers show this behavior stems from the turtle’s large, kidney-like salt glands in their head. These organs are designed to help the sea turtle release excess salt that it accumulates within its body.

39:07 – See a successful rescue of straggler sea turtles in a nest excavation! The biologist also explains the differences between gopher tortoises and sea turtles so that you do not accidently try to “save” a gopher tortoise by putting it in the ocean.

41:30 – Evolutionary differences between sea turtles and tortoises. Sea turtles descended from ancient land tortoises. Later, some of these sea turtles returned to land, giving rise to what we know today as modern land tortoises.

42:45 – Leatherback skeletal system. The shells/carapaces of sea turtles include their ribs. Unlike other sea turtles that have fused ribs, the leatherback possesses unfused ribs.

46:10 – The episode ends with a nighttime hatchling release. I hope you enjoyed the episode as much as me! I am looking forward to the next one!


My picture from a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle release


2 responses to “The “Inside” Scoop: Leatherback Sea Turtle

  1. Pingback: The “Inside” Scoop: Sperm Whale | bloggerheadseaturtle·

  2. Pingback: The “Inside” Scoop: Camel | bloggerheadseaturtle·

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