Validation of ultrasound as a noninvasive tool to measure subcutaneous fat depth in leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) undergo substantial cyclical changes in body condition between foraging and nesting. Ultrasonography has been used to measure subcutaneous fat as an indicator of body condition in many species but has not been applied in sea turtles. To validate this technique in leatherback turtles, ultrasound images were obtained from 36 live-captured and dead-stranded immature and adult turtles from foraging and nesting areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ultrasound measurements were compared with direct measurements from surgical biopsy or necropsy. Tissue architecture was confirmed histologically in a subset of turtles. The dorsal shoulder region provided the best site for differentiation of tissues. Maximum fat depth values with the front flipper in a neutral (45–90°) position demonstrated good correlation with direct measurements. Ultrasound-derived fat measurements may be used in the future for quantitative assessment of body condition as an index of health in this critically endangered species.