Common Name: Leatherback - named because of its unique “leathery” looking shell is made up of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin, strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates.
Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea
Description: Leatherbacks have a deeply notched upper jaw with 2 cusps on the head. Compared with other species of sea turtles, only the leatherback lacks a hard shell. Its carapace is large, elongated and flexible with 7 distinct ridges running the length of the shell. The leatherback's carapace is made up of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin, strengthened by thousands of tiny bone plates, has no scales, but hatchlings have scales. All flippers have no claws. The carapace is dark grey or black with white or pale spots, while the plastron is whitish to black with 5 ridges. The carapace of leatherback hatchlings has white blotches on it.
Size: Leatherbacks are usually 121-183 cm which is 4 to 6 feet. The largest leatherback ever found was nearly 305 cm which is 10 feet in length from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail and 916 kg which is 2,019 pounds in weight.
Weight: 550 to 1,545 pounds (250-700 kg).
Diet: Leatherbacks have delicate jaws that would be damaged by many things except a diet of soft-bodied animals. That is why leatherback sea turtles only feed on jellyfish. It is marvelous that this large, active animal can live on a diet of jellyfish, which are made up mostly of water and have a poor source of nutrients.
Habitat: Although recent satellite tracking research tells that leatherbacks feed in areas just offshore, they are mainly found in the open ocean, as far as Alaska in the north and as far as the southern tip of Africa in the south. Leatherbacks are known as the only reptile that can be active in water with a low temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nesting: Although recent research has indicated they can nest every year, the leatherbacks nest every 2 to 3 years. Nests between 6 to 9 times every season, with 10 days on average between nestings. A leatherback sea turtle lays 80 fertilized eggs the size of billiard balls, and 30 smaller unfertilized eggs in each nest. The time for the eggs to incubate is about 65 days. The leatherback is different from other species of sea turtles in that the females may change nesting beaches, even though they tend to stay in the same region.
Range: Most of all leatherback sea turtles are distributed widely. The largest north and south range of all the sea turtle species are found world wide. Because its body is streamlined and the front flippers is powerful, a leatherback can swim thousands of miles over open ocean and against fast currents.
Status: U.S. – Because they are in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future, the leatherbacks have been listed as Endangered under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act.
International – The leatherbacks have been listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources since they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
Threats to Survival: Incidental take in commercial fisheries and marine pollution is the greatest threat for leatherback sea turtles, while they accidently eat balloons and plastic bags floating in the water which they mistaken as jellyfish.
Population Estimate: 35,860 nesting females.