Leatherback Sea Turtle

October 20, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Leatherback sea turtle on the beach

Photo: "Leatherback sea turtle/ Tinglar, USVI" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is licensed under CC by 2.0

Name: Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Order: Turtles (Testudines)
Family: Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelyidae)

What they look like

  • Up to two meters long and weighing more than 2,000 pounds.
  • Has a rather leather-like (hence its name) inky-blue upper shell with 7 ridges along its length and large mostly-black flippers.

Where they live

  • Have the largest distribution around the world compared to all other reptiles and possibly vertebrates.
  • Can be found in the temperate and tropical waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, and as far north as Canada and as south as New Zealand.
  • Spend most of their time in the open ocean but also come to coastal waters to feed.

What they eat

  • Jellyfish make up the vast majority of their diet.
  • Can also feed on other soft-bodied animals including octopus and squid.


  • Nesting season varies by region and, unlike other sea turtles, females do not always return to the same beach they were born to lay their eggs.
  • Females dig a nest in sandy tropical beaches, lay around 100 eggs, and cover their nest with sand.
  • The young hatch after about 60 to 65 days and are born with characteristic white ridges along their shell and flippers.

Cool Biology Facts

  • The world record for largest leatherback sea turtle was a 2.6 meters long male weighing 2,020 pounds!
  • Leatherback sea turtle can dive deeper than any other turtle.
  • Can dive up to 1,280 meters while holding their breath for up to 85 minutes.


  • Although their Atlantic populations are steady or increasing, their Pacific populations are rapidly declining due to harvesting of eggs and nesting females, accidental capture in fishing nets, and coastal development.

Explore more of the Amphibians & Reptiles of Washington or check out All About Amphibians.

Explore Similar Content

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

Snapping turtles are an introduced species in some western states, including Washington state.

Oregon Spotted Frog

The Oregon Spotted Frog is currently very threatened in Washington state, having disappeared from 70-90% of their range.

Western Skink on a rock

Western Skinks tend to live near water in dry open forests, shrub-steppe, and grassland.

Back to Top