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Leatherback Sea Turtle

By Rani Iyer




Leatherback Sea Turtle

Scientific Name: Dermochelys coriacea

It is shaped like a teardrop, a big teardrop it must be! This creature measures nearly 2 meters (about 7 feet) long, and the front flippers of this ocean creature can grow up to 3 meters (9 feet).

Cute or not, don't touch the flippers. The flippers are armed with sharp claws.

Using these flippers, this creature can undertake an epic journey. One swam 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles) from Indonesia to the United States of America. This journey was completed over 92 weeks, almost two years.

Meet the extraordinary Leatherback Sea Turtle! The ocean is a playground for this giant. They can be found in Arctic waters and close to the cold waters of New Zealand. The Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean are oceanic highway for the Leatherbacks. Here, they swim as fast as we drive in town- about 35 kilometers per hour (about 22 miles per hour). The female Leatherbacks touch land once every two or three years, but the males never leave the water.

Scientists have studied the genes and differentiated three different populations. But the bad news is all populations are close to being lost forever. How did it come to this? Consider this: a female turtle lays about 110 eggs at a time. During the season, she repeats this feat up to 9 times. That is about 990 eggs per female. Multiply this number with 3,000 females who nested on the beach. Plenty!

Unfortunately, many people over time have had the same idea. They harvested the eggs as soon as they was laid. The surviving baby turtles were also eaten by birds and animals before they could safely hide in the sea. Due to these factors, the Leatherback turtles are endangered today.

Leatherback Sea Turtles have been around from the Cretaceous period (about 110 million years ago). During all this time, the leatherbacks have had a fantastic lifecycle. The adults migrate long distances to breed. Mating takes place at sea as the males never leave the ocean once they enter it. The females come to the sandy beaches to excavate a nest just above the high-tide line with their large flippers. After laying the eggs, the female fills the nest, and scatters sand around. This disguises the nest from the surrounding areas!

The leatherbacks need beaches with soft sand and shallow beaches. Such beaches easily erode. The leatherbacks are getting a bad deal. They are losing their breeding ground due to erosion. Their nests are robbed. Every turtle that lives is a victory for us. What would you do to protect this precious species?

Learn more about conservation:
  • Africa's largest nesting site is protected Teacher resources:
  • Internal compass of the leatherback sea turtles
  • Tracking the turtle



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