Leatherback Sea Turtle | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Dermochelys coriacea

Also known as

Leatherback, leathery turtle

Distribution

Global oceans; tropical to cold temperate waters

Écosystèmes/habitats

Coastal to open ocean; deep diver

Feeding Habits

Omnivore (mostly feed on jellyfish)

Conservation Status

Endangered

Taxonomie

Order Chelonii (turtles & tortoises); Family Dermochelyidae (leatherback sea turtles)

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Leatherback sea turtles have been swimming around the world’s oceans for more than 90 million years. They are the largest living turtle in the world, growing to more than two meters long and weighing 900 kilograms. Their preferred food is jellyfish, but because they are not very nutritious, each turtle needs to consume enough jellyfish to match its own body weight every day! To help them capture and eat these soft-bodied animals, they have a sharply pointed cusp at the end of their snout for piercing, and backward-pointing spines all the way down their throat to help swallow their slippery prey.

Leatherback sea turtles are the only sea turtle that lack a hard shell, called a “carapace.” Instead, the back of a leatherback is made up of a layer of leathery skin with seven pronounced ridges on its back. This skin covers a layer of fat, tissue, and thousands of bony plates held together with cartilage to form the base of the “shell.” Leatherbacks are blue-black in colour with greyish-white spots, while their underside is a much lighter pinkish-white colour. They also have a unique patch on the top of their head that is this same pinkish-white colour, but its shape is different for every turtle; much like a human fingerprint.  

Leatherbacks are also unique among sea turtles because they are the only species that lacks claws on both its front and rear flippers. Their front flippers are extremely long, often about as long as half the length of their body, while their back flippers are much smaller and are used as rudders.