Leatherback Sea Turtle | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Dermochelys coriacea

Also known as

Leatherback, leathery turtle


Global oceans; tropical to cold temperate waters


Coastal to open ocean; deep diver

Feeding Habits

Omnivore (mostly feed on jellyfish)

Conservation Status



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 spend their entire lives at sea, with only females coming ashore every two to three years to lay eggs on sandy beaches. In the Atlantic, nesting generally occurs from February to August, while in the Pacific leatherbacks nest at any time of year, and always on tropical beaches. Each female will nest about six times per season. Females re-migrate to the region in which they were born, and often to the same beach they were born, to lay and bury clutches of about 80 eggs. After about two months, the hatchlings will emerge from the nest and make a mad dash to the sea.  The life of leatherbacks out on the open ocean is not well understood and more research is needed, however, we do know that they migrate long distances for feeding and nesting.  Research on sea turtle migration has shown that more than 50 per cent of leatherbacks in Canada’s Atlantic waters come from the island of Trinidad. Leatherbacks come to Canada’s coastal waters to feed, as this area provides critical foraging habitat. Due to the high productivity of our colder, temperate waters, there are high concentrations of jellyfish and other prey items for leatherbacks to feed on.