Leatherback sea turtles can be huge, averaging six feet (2 meters) in length and weighing about 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms). They can also dive deeper than any other turtle, up to 4,035 feet (1,230 meters). But they're critically endangered and need our help to survive.
The largest known leatherback sea turtle weighed more than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) and reached more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length.
Facts about Leatherback Sea Turtles:
Leatherback sea turtles are the biggest turtles on Earth. A leatherback can weigh more than a ton—2,000 pounds (907 kilograms)! They're long, too. Leatherbacks are generally at least 6 feet (2 meters) long. An adult leatherback sea turtle is generally longer than an average-size man is tall.
Unlike other species of sea turtles, which have hard shells, the leatherback's shell is leathery; it feels almost rubbery. The shell is black, often speckled with white or yellow spots.
These huge reptiles lived 100 million years ago—during the age of dinosaurs—but their future is uncertain.
Leatherbacks are one of the more endangered creatures on Earth, for several reasons, mostly due to human activity. They are often caught by accident in fishing nets. Stuck underwater, they drown. Sea turtle nesting habitats are also being destroyed, and the eggs they do lay are illegally collected by people for food.
Newly hatched sea turtles instinctively head from the nest to the sea, but in areas where people live, the hatchlings often become confused by lights from houses built along shore. Instead of heading to sea, they head toward the lights. Another hazard for sea turtles is floating plastic trash, which they often mistake for jellyfish, their main food.
Leatherbacks must breathe air at the surface, but can stay underwater for up to 35 minutes at a time. Only females ever leave the ocean. During nesting season, the female comes ashore on a sandy beach, where she digs a hole. She lays about 100 eggs in the hole, covers them with sand, and heads back to sea. Sea turtles do not guard their nests, so the babies are on their own.
The eggs take about two months to hatch. The tiny hatchlings are only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) long. As soon as they hatch, they dig their way out of the sandy nest and scurry across the beach to the sea.
Gulls and other birds often scoop up the hatchlings before they make it to the water. Other predators, such as large fish, await those lucky enough to make it into the sea.
Text by Catherine D. Hughes
FAST FACTS The scientific name of the leatherback sea turtle is Dermochelys coriacea.
Leatherback sea turtles generally weigh about 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) and grow to be 6 feet (2 meters) long.
The largest known individual weighed more than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) and reached more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length.
A leatherback sea turtle can live to be about 45 years old.
There are seven species of sea turtle: leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead, Kemp's ridley, olive ridley, green, and flatback.
Leatherback sea turtles dive deeper than any other species of sea turtle. They can dive 4,035 feet (1,230 meters) deep and stay underwater—without breathing—for up to 35 minutes.
Only about one in 1,000 leatherback sea turtles survives to be an adult.
Leatherback sea turtles live mainly in warm waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They've also been spotted in icy seas off the northern shores of Canada as well as the southern coast of South Africa.
The leatherback sea turtle has backward-pointing spines in its mouth and throat. After it slurps in favorite prey, such as jellyfish, the spines help keep the slippery meal in the turtle's mouth as it swallows.