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  • Writer's pictureWill Hedrick

Leatherback Sea Turtle│Animal Profile

Updated: May 19, 2023


Sea turtles are incredible creatures, each with their own unique qualities. Leatherback sea turtles have stayed in the same form for millions of years, dating back to dinosaur times. They have impressive talents, including the ability to dive 4,000 feet, way farther than most marine mammals.


Leatherback sea turtles spend most of their life in the ocean. They can spend up to two hours underwater without breathing, but most tend to come up to the surface for air every few minutes. Female sea turtles spend time on land to lay eggs on beaches. Leatherback turtles are known for traveling long distances, as much as 10,000 miles or more per year.


The diet of leatherback turtles includes mostly jellyfish. Unlike other sea turtles, the leatherback does not have strong chewing plates. Rather, they have pointed spines in their mouth and a sharp edged jaw requiring softer prey.

Physical Characteristics

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle in the ocean. You can tell the leatherback apart from other sea turtles because they do not have scales or a hard shell on their back. Instead, they are covered with rubber skin and seven firm vertical ridges on their back. The “shell” on a leatherback can reach six feet long and weigh up to 1,400 pounds.


It can take 6 to 10 years for a leatherback sea turtle to reach sexual maturity. After mating in shallow waters, females nest every 2 to 4 years. Females nest several times, laying about 100 eggs in each spot. After two months pass, hatchlings are born.


Leatherbacks are found in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, but mainly nest along beaches in tropical locations. In the United States, leatherbacks nest in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Conserving Leatherback Sea Turtles

Sea turtle populations are rapidly declining due to threats in the ocean and on nesting beaches. The threats have led to a 40% decline in the population of leatherback sea turtles. The biggest threat to sea turtles is unintended capture in fishing gear, causing them to drown or other injuries that reduce their ability to survive. Other threats include hunting, loss of habitat, vessel strikes, ocean pollution, and climate change.

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is an NC based organization that strives to conserve and protect all sea turtle species in the water and on land. The center rescues and rehabilitates sick or injured sea turtles and releases them back to the ocean to live prosperous lives. They also prioritize educating the public about sea turtles, their threat of extinction, and provide educational experiences about wildlife conservation.

Learn more about our Sea Turtle Conservation Project by clicking here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are leatherback sea turtles endangered?

No. Currently leatherback sea turtles are listed as vulnerable which means they are at risk of extinction. Other sea turtles are endangered, such as the green turtle, hawksbill, and kemp’s ridley.

Do leatherback sea turtles have predators?

Yes and no. Eating a 6 foot turtle would require a large marine animal like tiger sharks, but sea turtle eggs are often preyed on by birds, racoons, and crabs.

When do leatherback sea turtles lay eggs?

Sea turtle nesting takes place during warm months, usually between March and July. Depending on location, sea turtles may lay eggs earlier or later into September.

Where do leatherback sea turtles live?

Leatherback sea turtles live in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They are known for traveling far distances at a time. They nest in a variety of tropical locations, including Florida and Costa Rica.


Written by: Faith Foushee


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