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

    Animal profiles

    Bare-Faced Ibis
    Blue and Gold Macaw
    Common Potoo
    Green Honeycreeper
    Grey Winged Trumpeter
    Harpy Eagle
    Horned Screamer
    Jabiru Stork
    Malachite Kingfisher
    Mealy Parrot
    Northern Cassowary
    Savanna hawk
    Scale-crested pygmy-tyrant
    Rhinoceros Hornbill
    Scarlet Ibis
    Wattled Jacana

    Asian black bear
    Black-and-white ruffed lemur
    Black-faced spider monkey
    Bornean Rhino
    Brown capuchin monkey
    Capybara [2nd profile]
    Coquerel's Sifaka
    Crowned Lemur
    Eastern Long Beaked Echidna
    Howler Monkey
    Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat
    Malayan Tapir
    Mountain Gorilla
    Plains Zebra not a rainforest species
    South American tapir
    South American coatimundi
    Spectral Tarsier
    Spider Monkey
    Squirrel Monkeys
    White-lipped peccary
    Woolly Monkey

    Green Basilisk
    Leatherback Sea Turtle not a rainforest species
    Pygmy stump-tailed chameleon
    Spectacled Caiman

    Giant Chinese Salamander
    Gladiator Tree Frog
    Green Poison Arrow Frog
    Indian Purple Frog
    Monkey Frog
  • Follow mongabay kids on Twitter

    All about Rainforests


  • May I use graphics from mongabay.com for my projects? Yes, you may provided that you don't remove the mongabay label from the images. You may use information from the site for class projects and can cite kids.mongabay.com as the source.
  • Can I interview the founder of mongabay.com for my school project? Unfortunately due to the large number of requests and the need to work on the main mongabay.com site, Rhett (the person who runs mongabay.com) is not available for interviews. However he has answered some common questions on the Rainforest Interview page.
  • Do you have any games or activities? Currently there are a few on the resources page. There may be more in the future.
  • Who are some scientists who study rainforests? Take a look at the Interviews with rainforest experts page.
  • How can I help save rainforests? Some ideas are listed on the Rainforest Solutions page.
  • Where can I learn more about rainforests? There is a wealth of information at the main rainforest site

    Simplified version (fewer images and links)

  • home | teacher resources | rainforest books for kids | other languages | about the site | main rainforest site | help support the site | search | contact

    ©2008 mongabay.com