Last week, passengers on a Santa Cruz Whale Watching boat got to see a rare and special site: a Pacific leatherback sea turtle feeding on a brown sea nettle, or jelly fish.
According to local marine biologist, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, the leather back in the picture appears to be around 1,000 pounds.
"I'd say it looks like it's healthy and eating well! The leatherbacks encountered in our bay are usually nice and fat, ready for the long swim back to Indonesia," Nichols said.
The leatherbacks seen in local waters travel around 6,000 miles to feed off the coast of California, migrating from Indonesia where they nest.
The chances of seeing the endangered leatherbacks in our backyard may be on the rise in the coming weeks, according to Nichols, who says they typically migrate up the coast during midsummer through fall.
There were other reports last week of leatherbacks siting in the waters around Monterey, Moss Landing and Half Moon Bay, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The sea turtles appear to following a bloom of jelly fish, their number one food source, north through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
"I think that most people don't realize that we have leatherback turtles in the bay that come from Indonesia, and it's nice to highlight that," said Nichols, just after seeing the two interactive sea turtle exhibits at Santa Cruz's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Monday.
Nichols is on the board of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, an advocacy group working to protect endangered marine life, and he's also on the board of Save Our Shores, the local nonprofit group largely responsible for getting single use plastic bags banned in the Santa Cruz County.
Plastic bags are known to be regularly injested by sea turtles mistaking them for their favorite food: jellies. In fact its very hard even for a human being to tell the difference between a jelly and a plastic bag floating underwater.
The leatherback turtle has been listed as an endangered species since 1970, and some researchers estimate that their population has declined 95 percent over the last 25 years.
According to researchers at Turtle Island Restoration Network, they could disappear completely in the next 5-30 years, even though they have survived unchanged for over 100 million years.
The declining numbers of leatherbacks are largely due to poaching, entanglement in shrimp nets or long line hooks, destruction of nesting beaches, pollution and plastic debris in the ocean. Rising sea levels are also impacting nesting beaches and the food resources of sea turtles, according to researchers at Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Have you ever seen a Pacific leatherback in the wild? Tell us about it in the comments!