Leatherback Turtle

Globally Endangered Animal

Background

Leatherback turtles are the largest turtles on Earth. These turtles are the only remaining representatives of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years. Once prevalent in every ocean except the Arctic and Antarctic, the leatherback population is rapidly declining in many parts of the world. This turtle is flexible and almost rubbery to touch. Leatherbacks can dive to depths of 4,200 feet—deeper than any other turtle—and can stay down for up to 85 minutes. Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of all reptile species, and possibly of any vertebrate. They can be found in the tropic and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea.

Why are they extinct?

Leatherbacks are currently designated as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The number of leatherbacks in the Atlantic appears to be stable or increasing, but the Pacific population is declining at an alarming rate due to egg harvest, fishery bycatch, coastal development, and highly variable food availability. Some Pacific populations have disappeared entirely from certain areas, such as Malaysia.

What can be done?

Scientists around the world are tracking and studying leatherbacks to learn more about these reptilian giants and how they can be saved.