Leatherback sea turtle crawling up the beach to complete the nesting process



Leatherback Turtle

Species Spotlight

Names & Nicknames: Leatherback sea turtle, leathery turtle, the luth

Size: The LARGEST species of turtle, these whoppers can reach almost 1000kg in weight and are twice as long as Kylie Minogue. They grow this large so that their bodies can stay warm, allowing them to dive deeper and be found further north and south than any other turtle!

Communication: Leatherbacks like nattering to themselves now and then. Adults have been reported to let out the occasional growl, but the babies are the real chatterboxes. These tiddlers grunt and chirp with each other when they're just eggs; their version of setting up a group chat... from within a shell. But why? It's said that they use this group to co-ordinate a hatching time – cute!

Favourite hangout: These leathery legends have the widest range of any sea turtle, being found all across the world's oceans except for the Arctic and Antarctica. They like it out in the open sea diving for jellyfish snacks. When it comes to dating, they need it warmer – coastal beaches facing deep water to be precise.

Leatherback Turtle

Favourite snack: Just like a certain yellow sponge that lives in Bikini Bottom, leatherbacks just looooove jellyfish. Excellent news, because they need to eat 73% of their weight per day to stay stacked – that’s around 300 lions mane jellyfish! It may not sound like a lot, but these jellies are the largest on the planet, growing over 2 metres wide and with tentacles longer than a blue whale. That’s a lot of jelly.

Eating habits: Given the squishy nature of their prey, leatherbacks don't have teeth. Instead, they have a sharp beak that slices through tentacles. Once the jellies are cut up, they're trapped and passed through the turtle's throat, complete with downward-facing spikes so snacks don’t come back up again.

Love language: Like most things in leatherback life, they like it wet! Mating happens in the ocean and once the male’s job is over, he’ll go back to hunting jellies. All the while the female prepares for the arduous task of dragging herself up a beach, carefully digging a nest, and laying her eggs.

If you see them: Hopefully you're a good swimmer – it’s unlikely you'll see an adult leatherback otherwise! Say you stumble across a hatchling on the beach, stand back and watch them sprint for the sea. If you notice them going away from the ocean or something is blocking their path, like a plastic bottle, give them a hand, they have a tough enough start to life as it is!

Pacific leatherback turtle and school of fish

Red flags: As leatherbacks are found all across the world, they encounter a whole host of dangers. From bycatch by fishing vessels, being poached for their eggs or meat, their nesting beaches being destroyed or drowned by rising seas, and much more, these prehistoric beasts really don't have it easy.

Epic journeys: Leatherbacks are the true travellers of the marine world with one of the longest migrations of any marine animal. They regularly travel over 16,000km in a year to hunt and breed – one female was even documented travelling from Indonesia to Oregon, a trip of over 20,000km!

Growth: It’s tough to be a small baby turtle, so the solution is to grow up fast! Leatherbacks grow rapidly to over 30 times their size in the first 9 or so years. After that, they're so big there's little out there to threaten them, so they can chill their growth a little.

Baby Leatherback sea turtle

Facts: They're partial to a cry! They might not be sad, but when you're feeding on a creature that's 95% salt water, you're going BIG on the salt. No problem, they've developed the ingenious solution of crying thick salty tears through special glands by their eyes, making it look like they just watched Marley & Me.

Who are they in the friendship group: A gentle giant who is just constantly on the search for their next gummy snack.

How threatened are they: Vulnerable