Leatherback Sea Turtle

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     Researchers watch as a female leatherback turtle returns to the sea after nesting at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, also known as Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas (Leatherback National Marine Park).  Photo courtesy Dr. Vincent Saba.
  • Nesting Leatherback
    Nesting Leatherback  A nesting female leatherback sea turtle begins to dig the hole that will hold her eggs.  Photo courtesy Dr. Vincent Saba.
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     A nesting female leatherback sea turtle lays her clutch of eggs.  Photo courtesy Dr. Vincent Saba.
  • leatherback_returns_to_sea.jpg
     A female leatherback sea turtle returns to the sea after nesting.  Photo courtesy Dr. Vincent Saba.
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     An adult male leatherback turtle feeds on a jellyfish in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.  Photo courtesy Dr. Vincent Saba.
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Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacae) are the world's largest, deepest-diving, and most migratory sea turtles and the third most abundant turtle in Virginia's waters. Adult leatherbacks can reach 4 to 8 feet in length and weigh 500 to 2,000 pounds. Leatherbacks are named after their leathery shells, which comprise a mosaic of small bones covered by firm, rubbery skin with seven longitudinal ridges or keels. Six to ten leatherbacks strand in Chesapeake Bay each year; these are all adults; the average length of leatherbacks in Virginia's waters is ~ 54 in (138 cm).


"Endangered"; Pacific populations in crisis


Largest sea turtles (6+ feet long), weighing up to 2,000 lbs

Sexual Maturity


Nesting Habitat

Tropical beaches, some nesting in Florida; open beach

Juvenile Habitat



Gelatinous species (jellyfish/squid)

Foraging Habitat

Coastal and ocean based