Leatherback sea turtle

The mysterious diver of the ocean is the largest and only sea turtle without a hard shell and scales

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Leatherback sea turtle

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The mysterious diver of the ocean is the largest and only sea turtle without a hard shell and scales

Population 34,000 – 36,000
40% decline in population over the past three generations

An ancient mariner of our oceans, with a lineage dating back 100 million years, tracing its origins to the era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Despite surviving natural cataclysms that extinguished many other species, today’s Leatherbacks face threats that have caused their numbers to decline precipitously in modern times.

Leatherbacks are truly unique among sea turtles. Instead of a hard shell like other species, they have a distinctive flexible carapace that is covered in leathery skin, hence their name. This specialized shell is composed of a matrix of bony plates beneath the skin, allowing for a more hydrodynamic shape that aids in deep diving and long-distance swimming. Their adaptability in thermal regulation, a rare trait for reptiles, allows them to maintain a core body temperature that can function effectively in a wide range of water temperatures. This is partly why they can be found in all oceans, from the tropics to the subpolar regions.

Renowned for their epic migratory journeys, Leatherbacks traverse thousands of miles between their nesting beaches in tropical regions and their feeding grounds, which can be located in temperate and even subpolar latitudes. This extensive travel is driven by their need to consume vast quantities of jellyfish, which form the bulk of their diet and are more abundant in cooler waters.

The global distribution of Leatherbacks is categorized into seven Regional Management Units (RMUs), which are essentially subpopulations that are geographically and sometimes genetically distinct. Each RMU faces its own set of challenges, but there are common threats that imperil Leatherbacks across the globe.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Atlantic Ocean
CR
2019
Southwest Atlantic
Indian Ocean
VU
2019
Pacific Ocean
CR
2019
Albania
2013
American Samoa
2013
Angola
2013
Anguilla
2013
Antigua & Barbuda
2013
Argentina
2013
Aruba
2013
Australia
2013
Bahamas
2013
Bahrain
2013
Bangladesh
2013
Barbados
2013
Belize
2013
Benin
2013
Bermuda
2013
Bonaire Sint Eustatius And Saba
2013
Bosnia And Herz.
2013
Brazil
2013
British Virgin Is.
2013
Brunei
2013
Cambodia
2013
Cameroon
2013
Canada
2013
Chile
2013
China
2013
Colombia
2013
Comoros
2013
Congo-Brazzaville
2013
Costa Rica
2013
Croatia
2013
Cuba
2013
Curaçao
2013
Cyprus
2013
Côte D’ivoire
2013
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2013
Dominica
2013
Dominican Republic
2013
Ecuador
2013
Egypt
2013
El Salvador
2013
Equatorial Guinea
2013
Eritrea
2013
Fiji
2013
France
2013
French Guiana
2013
French Polynesia
2013
Gabon
2013
Gambia
2013
Ghana
2013
Greece
2013
Grenada
2013
Guadeloupe
2013
Guam
2013
Guatemala
2013
Guinea-Bissau
2013
Guinea
2013
Guyana
2013
Haiti
2013
Honduras
2013
India
2013
Indonesia
2013
Ireland
2013
Israel
2013
Possibly Extinct
Italy
2013
Jamaica
2013
Japan
2013
Kenya
2013
Kiribati
2013
Korea
2013
Lebanon
2013
Liberia
2013
Libya
2013
Madagascar
2013
Malaysia
2013
Marshall Islands
2013
Martinique
2013
Mauritania
2013
Mauritius
2013
Mayotte
2013
Mexico
2013
Micronesia
2013
Montenegro
2013
Montserrat
2013
Morocco
2013
Mozambique
2013
Myanmar
2013
Namibia
2013
New Caledonia
2013
New Zealand
2013
Nicaragua
2013
Nigeria
2013
Nort. Mariana Is.
2013
North Korea
2013
Palau
2013
Panama
2013
Papua New Guinea
2013
Peru
2013
Philippines
2013
Portugal
2013
Puerto Rico
2013
Russia
2013
Saint Helena
2013
Saint Lucia
2013
Saint Martin
2013
French Part
Saint Vincent
2013
Samoa
2013
Senegal
2013
Seychelles
2013
Sierra Leone
2013
Sint Maarten
2013
Dutch Part
Slovenia
2013
Solomon Islands
2013
South Africa
2013
Spain
2013
Sri Lanka
2013
St. Kitts & Nevis
2013
Suriname
2013
Syria
2013
São Tomé & Príncipe
2013
Taiwan
2013
Tanzania
2013
Thailand
2013
Togo
2013
Tonga
2013
Trinidad & Tobago
2013
Tunisia
2013
Turks & Caicos
2013
Tuvalu
2013
US Virgin Islands
2013
United Kingdom
2013
United States
2013
Uruguay
2013
Venezuela
2013

Did you know?

  • Their deepest dive ever recorded, reaching over 1.2 km( 4,000 ft) was deeper than other marine mammals.
  • The leatherback turtle can grow up to 2 m (7 ft) long and weigh more than 2,000 pounds; it is the biggest turtle on Earth.
  • The carapace’s seven ridges contribute to its more hydrodynamic structure.
  • They use a special set of adaptations to create and retain body heat to maintain warm body temperatures in chilly water. 
  • Warming temperatures and climate change threaten the leatherback population’s long-term reproductive success.
  • The decaying ocean plastic that resembles their primary prey, such as jellyfish, salps, and siphonophores, is ingested by leatherbacks, posing a serious threat to their survival.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No