The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest sea turtle, growing up to 6.5 feet (2 m) long and weigh 1,400 pounds (636 kg). The leatherback gets its name from its shell, which is like a thick leathery skin, with the texture of hard rubber.
The leatherback is critically endangered. In 1982, according to the IUCN, there were around 115,000 adult female leatherback turtles in the world. But only 14 years later that figure had plummeted to less than 30,000, caused by destruction of their reef habitats, development of their nesting beaches, poaching of their eggs and global climate change.
The most widely spread marine turtles, leatherbacks are found in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, particularly in tropical regions. They feed on jellyfish and other oceanic invertebrates. Leatherbacks are strong swimmers and have been known to migrate thousands of miles across oceans. Scientists tracked one leatherback turtle that swam from Indonesia to the U.S. in a 12,000 mile journey over a period of 647 days.
Every two to three years they return to the beaches where they were born to reproduce in the coastal waters. Female sea turtles lay around 100 eggs in each nest. These eggs are not brittle like a chicken’s, but rather encased in a flexible, leathery shell. Sea turtle eggs are a prized food for humans and animals alike. They are easy prey, simply waiting to be dug up once the female turtle returns to the sea.
In the ocean young leatherbacks face danger from sharks and other large fish. Despite their lack of a hard shell, the huge adult faces fewer predators but is occasionally attacked by large predators such as orcas, great white sharks and tiger sharks.