Government of New Brunswick
LeatherbackTurtle

Endangered 1996

  • Fishing nets and plastic bags endanger survival.
 

Description

The leatherback is the world’s largest turtle. It is occasionally found off New Brunswick coasts during migration – between June and October. It may reach a weight of almost 600 kg and be close to two metres long. That’s a lot of turtle! This species gets its name from its shell, which is made of bony plates or ‘scutes’ and covered by a brown rubbery skin. Its salt glands excrete the excess salt its body takes in, allowing the leatherback to survive in a marine environment. A particularly striking feature is the turtle’s mouth and esophagus, which have specialized spines that are pointed backward and help it swallow its prey.

 

 

Habitat

It can travel long distances, migrating between temperate and tropical waters. Breeding and nesting occur in tropical and subtropical areas. The female turtle produces eggs in separate clutches, four to 10 clutches per season. Each clutch has up to 50-70 eggs. After breeding season, the leatherback moves into temperate waters.

The adult turtle eats mainly jellyfish. During its oceanic migration, it is sometimes accidentally caught in fishing nets. Debris in marine waters also poses a danger. The leatherback has been known to swallow plastic bags, which it may mistake for jellyfish. This can cause serious harm. On its breeding grounds, the adult is sometimes hunted and its eggs harvested.

 

 

Distribution

The leatherback turtle can be found almost everywhere around the globe – from northern Alaska to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa – depending on the season.