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Leatherback Sea Turtles

The largest of all sea turtles, and one of the largest reptiles on earth, the leatherback turtle ranges in size from 4-8 feet in length (1.2 - 2.4 meters) and weighs between 500-2,000 pounds (225 - 900 kg). The average adult measures in between 5-6 feet (1.5 - 1.8 m) and weighs 600-800 pounds (270 - 360 kg).

The oldest of all sea turtle species, it has been around for more than 150 million years! They survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and thrived until the last several decades when human interactions have taken a major toll.

 

LEATHERBACK SEA TURTLES

  • Leatherbacks can consume twice their own body weight in prey per day, feeding exclusively on soft-bodied invertebrates like jellyfish and tunicates. Learn more about their diet.

  • They have downward curving spines (also known as papillae) in their mouth and throat which help them to capture and swallow their prey.

  • Unlike all other sea turtles, these giants do not possess a carapace (shell) covered with hard scales, also known as scutes. Their smooth, leathery skin covers a flexible matrix of bone. This specialized, flexible carapace allows them to dive to great depths unlike other species.

  • Their widespread distribution and ability to tolerate cold water are due to thermoregulatory adaptations (called gigantothermy) which allow them to maintain their core body temperature.

  • They are considered Vulnerable around the world by the IUCN Red List and listed as Endangered in the US.

  • Their scientific name is Dermochelys coriacea.

  • The largest one on record washed up dead on the coast of Wales (UK) in 1988. It weighed over 2,000 lbs and measured 9 feet in length! It was estimated to be approximately 100 years old. The turtle had been drowned from entanglement in fishing gear.

  • They can dive deeper than 4,000 ft (roughly 1,200 m)! Sperm Whales, Beaked Whales, and Elephant seals are the only other known animals that dive deeper.

  • Researchers recently tracked an adult female more than 12,000 miles (19,000 km) using satellite telemetry, from Indonesia to Oregon, one of the longest recorded migrations of any vertebrate animal. Read an article about this incredible journey.