Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Leatherback turtle, Trinidad
A leatherback turtle nests on Grande Riviere Beach in Trinidad. (Photo: Brian J. Hutchinson)

Status: Vulnerable (A2bd) globally; Seven distinct subpopulations range in status from Critically Endangered to Least Concern.

Basic Info: The largest of the sea turtles, the leatherback can reach over 1.8 m (6 ft) in length and 680 kg (1,500 lb) in weight. During their long migrations, leatherbacks regularly dive to depths greater than 1,000 m (3,281 ft) in search of gelatinous zooplankton to eat. The leatherback is rapidly declining in many areas of the world.

Distribution: Circumglobal, present in all the world’s oceans except Arctic and Antarctic; nesting areas are in the tropics, non-nesting range extends to sub-polar regions

Adult: Length 140-160 cm; mass 300-1000 kg
Hatchling: Length approximately 50 mm; mass 40-50 g

For all life stages, gelatinous zooplankton (jellies and jelly-like organisms)


* Reproduce every 2-4 years
* Lay 4-7 clutches of eggs per season
* Lay 50-90 eggs per clutch
* Billiard ball size eggs weigh roughly 80 grams
* Incubation period is approximately 60 days long

* The leatherback is the only remaining member of its taxonomic family (Dermochelyidae).
* Leatherbacks rely on a unique suite of adaptations including large body size, changes in activity and metabolic rate, peripheral insulation (i.e. fat), and adjustments in blood flow to maintain stable core body temperatures in varying water temperatures from temperate to tropical latitudes.
* The largest leatherback ever reported was an adult male found in Wales. It was greater than 2 meters (6.6 feet) long and 900 kg (1980 lbs) in mass.
* The longest recorded leatherback migration was 13,000 miles – one way!

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