Postmortem investigations on leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) stranded in the Canary Islands (Spain) (1998-2017): Evidence of anthropogenic impacts

Mar Pollut Bull. 2021 Jun;167:112340. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2021.112340. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


Opportunities for postmortem studies on leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are infrequent due to their predominantly pelagic life history. In this study, the pathological findings and causes of mortality of 13 leatherback turtles stranded in the Canary Islands, Spain, from 1998 to 2017, are described. In addition, concentrations of Se, As, Cd, Pb, Hg, 15 rare earth elements (REE) and other 4 minor elements (ME), 41 persistent organic pollutants, and 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in hepatic samples from 5 leatherbacks were determined. 84.62% of the turtles died possibly due to anthropogenic causes (entanglement/fishing interaction - 46.15%; boat strike - 23.07%; plastic ingestion - 15.38%). Although Se, As, and Cd were found at higher hepatic concentrations than those reported for leatherbacks from other locations, no acute lesions were detected. This is the first report of exposure to REE-ME in sea turtles. Organic contaminant hepatic concentrations were generally low or undetectable.

Keywords: Canary Islands; Dermochelys coriacea; Inorganic elements; Leatherback sea turtle; Pathology; Pollutants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autopsy
  • Liver / chemistry
  • Mercury* / analysis
  • Spain
  • Turtles*


  • Mercury