Skip to Content

Leatherback Sea Turtle: Why Is It Endangered?

Leatherback Sea Turtles are the largest of all sea turtles, but they’re critically endangered. Leatherbacks can be found in tropical and temperate waters throughout the world; however, their numbers are currently declining due to human activities like fisheries bycatch and global warming impacts.

  • Status: Critically endangered 
  • Known as: Leatherback Sea Turtle, Lute turtle, trunkback turtle.
  • Estimated numbers left in the wild: 60,000 (very approximate).

Leatherback Sea Turtles feed exclusively on jellyfish, which means that if there is an overabundance of them it may actually help Leatherbacks because they need so much food for so long.

But what about when there’s not enough jellyfish? What does this mean for Leatherback Sea Turtle populations? If you want to learn more about Leatherbacks or how your actions can protect them continue reading.


Leatherback Sea Turtle on sea shore

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtles in the world and are fourth in size among all current reptiles.

They are one of the most endangered marine animals on earth.

These Leatherbacks were hunted to near extinction for their meat and eggs because Leatherbacks were believed to produce more eggs than other sea turtle species and Leatherbacks were easy to catch as they could be found in shallow waters close to shorelines.

These turtles have been protected from hunting since 1978 but now face new threats from climate change, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution, boat strikes, and habitat loss.

Name and Evolution

Leatherback sea turtles are so named because of the characteristic leathery texture of their carapace, which is a result of their lack of scutes. the Leatherback Sea Turtle scientific name is Dermochelys coriacea.

Leatherbacks evolved during the Jurassic Period over 200 million years ago, alongside the first dinosaurs. The sea turtles species were once abundant at around 2 to 2.5 million individuals, however, due to human behaviors like fisheries bycatch and climate change impacts, their numbers have dropped.

Anatomy and Appearance

Leatherback Sea Turtle covered with sand

Their body is protected only by leathery, oily skin, rather than a hard shell.

These Leatherbacks can grow up to 2,000 pounds and 7 feet in width! The leatherback’s front flippers can grow to a spread of 2.7 meters, and the animal itself measures from 1.8 to 2.2 meters long.

These massive turtles weigh 250 to 700 kilograms. The biggest ever found was slightly longer than 3 meters and weighed 916 kilograms.

These turtles are well adapted to colder waters, with the ability to retain body heat, swimming muscles that work at a wide variety of temperatures, and brown fat sheathing much of the body.

They can put on bursts of speed up to 35 kilometers per hour, though they usually swim at a more leisurely pace.


Leatherback sea turtles prefer the open ocean and only venture into coastal waters for breeding purposes. They are found in all of the world’s major oceans and are known to venture into Arctic waters where other sea turtles do not go.


baby Leatherback Sea Turtle on sand

Leatherbacks can be found as far north as the New England coast of North America to south-western France, along Russia’s Pacific Coast, along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, and in northern Africa. Although the sea turtles species have the largest distribution of any sea turtle, it is also one of the least studied species. Aslo in the Atlantic Ocean and pacific ocean.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Habitat

These turtles are found in tropical and temperate waters all over the world. Leatherbacks are the only sea turtles that feed on jellyfish, and they can be identified by their very large size and leathery shell. These sea turtles species are currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, due to human activities like fisheries bycatch and global warming impacts. Leatherback Sea

Turtles typically migrate between feeding and nesting locations, and Leatherbacks can be found in the East Atlantic, West Indian, East Pacific, and South Pacific oceans. They are currently thriving in some areas; however, Leatherbacks can also be found in regions where Leatherbacks have already died off due to human impacts like fisheries bycatch and global warming.

The turtles can also be found nesting on beaches in Australia, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the east coast of Florida.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Diet and Nutrition

Leatherback Sea Turtle baby

Leatherback Sea Turtles have a very interesting diet and nutrition. Leatherbacks are carnivores and their diet consists mainly of jellyfish. They will also eat other types of invertebrates, including tunicates, corals, anemones, crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins.

Leatherbacks also eat carrion and will consume algae, seagrass, fish eggs, flying fish, and squid too. They have very tough jaws that enable them to crush the hard shells of their prey such as crabs or mollusks.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Mating Habits

Leatherback Sea Turtles mate offshore during the night.

Leatherback males use their strong front flippers to clasp onto a female from behind, and then they will sink down to the bottom of the ocean together. Adult turtles and Leatherback mating can last for hours, and after mating, the male will usually let go of the female and swim away.

The sea turtles species mating has been observed in the oceans off Baja, California. Leatherbacks are seen offshore in June and July during their northward migration to feed on jellyfish along much of the west coast of the United States.

Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered like Hawksbill that migrate up to 6,000 kilometers to reach their breeding grounds. Female leatherbacks come ashore at night to minimize their exposure to predators and bury clutches of around 80 eggs in the beach sand.

If the temperature of the eggs falls below 29.5 C, most of the hatchlings will be male, while high temperatures produce females and an even blend of the sexes occurs when the temperature is close to the 29.5 C mark.

Leatherback Hatchling Migrations

Leatherback turtle hatching

Once they are hatched and in the open ocean, male leatherbacks never return deliberately to land, though they may be washed ashore when sick, dead, or caught up in a major storm. Females often return to the same beach their mother used when they are old enough to begin laying eggs.

Sea turtle hatchlings are a migratory process, and it is a long journey. Pacific Leatherback sea turtles migrate from the coast of Costa Rica to the coastal waters of Mexico after nesting season.

Leatherbacks are also often seen in Europe and America from November until spring. Leatherbacks of all ages prefer currents that take them away from shore, which end up being their final destination.

The sea turtles species Leatherback hatchlings have a high rate of mortality. Leatherbacks have many predators, including birds, raccoons, and crabs that can be found on the beaches. In addition, Leatherback eggs are vulnerable to predation from ants as well as both native and feral pigs which often dig them up from their nests.

The Leatherback has been reported to have been preyed on by tiger sharks, particularly in the Atlantic. Leatherback young usually wash up on a beach after having been eaten by predators such as killer whales and animals from the land.

Leatherback Sea Behavior

Leatherback Sea Turtles have many adaptations that help them survive in the ocean, including their tough leathery shell and their ability to dive to depths of over 1,000 meters.

The sea turtles species are known to migrate long distances throughout the world’s oceans between foraging habitats and nesting sites. Leatherbacks may travel as much as 8,500 kilometers between nesting locations in Malaysia and Australia.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Role in Ecosystems

Leatherback sea turtle near sea shore

The sea turtles species represent an important apex predator in many marine ecosystems, not only for regulating prey populations but also as a source of nutrients for other animals higher up the food chain.

Loss of Leatherbacks would have significant impacts on marine ecosystems, and it is important to do what we can to protect these animals.

You can help by ensuring you don’t accidentally catch them in your fishing gear, and by supporting policies and regulations that seek to reduce the threats they face.

Leatherback Sea Turtle vs Other Sea Turtles

Leatherbacks are different from other sea turtles in a few ways:

  • They are the largest of all sea turtles and can weigh up to two thousand pounds.
  • They are also the only sea turtle species that feed on jellyfish.
  • They are the only turtles that don’t have a hard shell. Instead, their shells are made up of a layer of tough, oily skin.
  • Leatherbacks are able to dive much deeper than other sea turtles. Leatherbacks can reach depths of up to two thousand feet!
  • Leatherback dive times can last up to thirty minutes, whereas other turtles only dive for five minutes.
  • Leatherback adults are larger than any other species of sea turtle and can grow as large as seven feet long.
  • Leatherbacks can weigh up to seven hundred pounds. Leatherback sea turtle species are also the only turtle species that feed on jellyfish, which can be found in both tropical and temperate waters throughout the world.
  • Leatherbacks range in color from olive-green to black or dark gray.
  • The sea turtles species are known for their unique oily flesh (they don’t have a hard shell), and their ability to dive deeper than other turtles.
  • Leatherbacks can also be identified by their large size and dark skin color, as well as the presence of five lateral ridges on the carapace (top part of the shell).

Leatherback Sea Turtle and Human Relationship

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is critically endangered due to human-related activities.

Leatherbacks must be protected because they are an endangered species. The sea turtles species are the only turtle that eats jellyfish and Leatherbacks can be found in tropical and temperate water all around the world.

But these species are endangered, so it needs to be protected by humans, or else there will not be any more Leatherbacks left for many generations to come. We need to take care of sea turtles now before it’s too late!

Cultural Significance of Leatherback Sea Turtles

Closeup of Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is a significant cultural icon in Micronesia, American Samoa, and the Philippines.

Sea turtles are regarded as being sacred animals by those cultures. In those areas, Leatherbacks have been revered as signs from God and were thought to be the turtle that carried the Earth upon its back.

In those regions, Leatherbacks are regarded as being sacred animals by those cultures. The Leatherback is seen as a sign from God and is believed to be the turtle that carries the Earth upon its back.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Facts

Here are the interesting facts about Sea Turtle Facts

  • Leatherback Sea Turtle is the largest of all sea turtles
  • Leatherbacks can be found in tropical and temperate waters throughout the world
  • Leatherbacks are critically endangered, with their numbers currently declining due to human activities like fisheries bycatch and global warming impacts
  • Leatherbacks are important predators in the marine ecosystem, so their decline could have serious consequences for ocean health
  • Leatherbacks migrate from tropical nesting beaches to feeding areas in subtropical waters.
  • Leatherbacks will often not return to their birthplace to breed.
  • Leatherback turtles also have leathery shells that give them their name, which is very different than other sea turtle species which have hard shells.
  • Leatherback turtles can weigh between 400-600lbs, and they grow up to 6 feet long.
  • Leatherback turtles are omnivores consequently

See RelatedThree-Letter Animals You Need to Know

Conservation Status

close-up shot of a baby newborn Leatherback sea turtle

Sea turtles are an important part of the marine ecosystem, and Leatherbacks are critically endangered.

Leatherbacks prey on jellyfish, which are already in danger, so if Leatherbacks are no longer present then the populations of the jellyfish will increase. Leatherbacks migrate from tropical nesting beaches to feeding areas in subtropical waters, which means they would be needed to keep the species of fish balanced.

Leatherback sea turtle conservation is an ongoing issue because Leatherbacks have many predators that can be found on the beaches. In addition, Leatherback eggs are preyed upon by ants as well as indigenous and feral pigs, who dig them up from their nests.


Leatherback turtles are less subject to predation by humans than other species because their oily flesh is unpalatable, though a few are caught and eaten by those desperate enough for meat. Nests are raided for eggs and leatherback strandings in some parts of the world where protective measures are lax or absent where among the threats these species face.

Plastic bags washed into the ocean (or simply dumped in as part of the garbage disposal) are a much more immediate threat, since they look like jellyfish. Leatherbacks will eat these bags, possibly resulting in harmful or fatal intestinal blockages. The turtles are also too large to fit through the “turtle excluder” devices fitted to modern fishing nets and may die entangled.

Conservation efforts

 Leatherback Sea Turtles have been observed resting on mangroves, vegetation, and stones at the sea’s edge.

In the past Leatherbacks were hunted for meat by humans and also their soft shells were used to make purses and other items. Turtles play a vital role in balancing the food chain as they are an important prey item for large fish that live closer to shores such as mackerel, swordfish, grouper, barracuda, and sharks.

Leather-backed turtles also rank high in a global index tracking extinction risk led by scientists from Stanford University.

Government initiatives and the efforts of organizations like the Leatherback Trust are directed towards protecting these vulnerable animals and other endangered species, including the establishment of protected nesting refuges and efforts to prevent indirect harm by controlling fishing net placement, sustainability campaigns, and the like.

Local conservation efforts are also occurring in some countries, such as Costa Rica, with donation-funded beach patrols helping to protect nests.



Oceana logo

Oceana is the largest international organization focused only on ocean conservation, protecting marine ecosystems and endangered species such as the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Oceana is also a highly influential environmental NGO that is currently fighting for the Leatherback Sea Turtle. The turtle species are very important because they are critically endangered, which is most likely due to their size and their diet. Leatherbacks are one of the most common turtles that fall into fishing nets due to their size, but also because Leatherbacks can be found in almost every ocean in the world.

Sea Turtle Conservancy

Sea Turtle Conservancy logo

Sea Turtle Conservancy works to protect the 7 different remaining sea turtle species found in the oceans and their habitats through research, education, training, and advocacy.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that is working to protect turtles, including the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

The Leatherbacks are critically endangered, and the conservancy is doing everything they can to help protect this species.

Some of the things they do include working with governments and other organizations to create and enforce bans on fishing gear that harms turtles, educating people about the importance of sea turtles and how they can help protect them, and working to restore sea turtle habitats.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Wildlife Conservation Society logo

Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats through various campaigns like promoting eco-friendly products. WCS has five zoos in New York.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is a non-profit institution that has been able to reach out and provide assistance for animals like Leatherback Sea Turtles. It has also been working diligently to create awareness about the turtles.

Final Thoughts

Leatherback Sea Turtles are the largest of all sea turtles, but they’re also critically endangered.

Leatherbacks can be found in tropical and subtropical beaches and temperate waters throughout the world; however, they are now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The most significant threat Leatherbacks face is their diet because Leatherback’s flesh is unpalatable to humans who eat them when there is no other option available for food.

This makes it difficult for Leatherbacks to reproduce due to a lack of sea turtle nesting beaches that remain undisturbed by predators like ants or feral pigs which prey on Leatherback eggs.

See Related: Types of Turtles Around the World


What is a Leatherback Sea Turtle?

The largest of all sea turtles, the Leatherback Sea Turtle is also one of the most endangered.

Leatherbacks are unique among turtle species in that they consume jellyfish.

Leatherbacks may be found in tropical and temperate seas across the world, although they are now considered Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with their numbers declining as a consequence of human activities like trawl bycatch and climate change.

Leatherbacks are critically endangered. Why are Leatherbacks critically endangered?

Leatherbacks are critically endangered because they get tangled up in fishing nets, abandoned ghost nets, and die from getting hit by ships.

The sea turtles species also experience increased mortality rates due to kite fishing, accidental capture on longlines, and entanglement with marine debris.

Leatherbacks are a critically endangered species due to human activity. Endangered Leatherback Turtles have been spotted in tropical and temperate waters throughout the world. The sea turtles species have been on Earth for at least 23 million years, but they’re on track to go extinct before the next century is over.

Leatherbacks live about 50-75 years, but more of them die due to fisheries bycatch and global warming impacts than make it to old age. they feast exclusively on jellyfish, but their numbers also fall due to humans capturing them for their meat and shells around the world.

How big are Leatherback Sea Turtles, and how do they differ from other turtles?

They measure around 4.5 feet long and weigh from 400-1000 pounds when fully grown. Leatherbacks are unique from other turtle species, in that they’re the only turtles that feed primarily on jellyfish

Are Leatherbacks found in every ocean in the world?

Yes, Leatherbacks are can be found in every ocean in the world.

How many types of sea turtles exist today?

There are seven types of sea turtles that exist today. Leatherback, loggerhead, green, hawksbill, olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley, and flatback have been left as endangered by the IUCN red list.

How many leatherback sea turtles are left?

Around 5 clutches of Leatherbacks can be found annually off Papua New Guinea.

Given that these Leatherbacks only lay around 150-250 eggs per clutch (only one out of every two hundred Leatherback hatchlings survive to adulthood).

It’s clear these populations will not get enough recruitment over time unless there is immediate action taken to reverse the decline or at least stabilize leatherback population trends for this once near-threatened species.

It’s estimated that there are less than 45,000 Leatherbacks left in the world.

How long have Leatherback Sea Turtles been around?

Leatherback Sea Turtles have been around since the Jurassic period, approximately 200 million years ago. Leatherbacks are also the only turtle species that feed on jellyfish.

Leatherbacks live up to 80 years when safeguarded from threats like fishing nets or habitat destruction, but for females foraging in nearshore habitats, Leatherbacksare estimated to be less than 40 years old – indicating major longevity declines over this century.

What can people do to help Leatherbacks?

People can work with Leatherback-protection groups to help Leatherbacks find more food sources so they don’t have to resort to eating jellyfish.

They’ll also need coordinated efforts with governments so that Leatherbacks cannot get entangled in fishing gear or caught accidentally in nets or traps set for other animals.

There is hope that Leatherback populations will recover if enough people give Leatherbacks a chance.

Other Species Profiles

Related Resources