Niche – large carnivore
Favorite Food – jellyfish
Length – up to 6 feet
Weight – sometimes over 1,700 pounds
Status – Critically Endangered
Threats – egg raids by humans and animals, habitat destruction
The leatherback turtle is big. Really big. Imagine a turtle that weighs 2,000 pounds and measures up to nine feet long. That’s the leatherback turtle. In addition to being the world’s biggest turtle, it also holds the title of the deepest-diving and the fastest reptile in the world, able to rocket its massive body through the water at over 20 miles per hour. By comparison, champion Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps only manages a little over 5 miles per hour in his fastest race.
Despite its awesome size and ability to live in warm and cold ocean waters, the Leatherback Turtle is one of the most critically endangered marine animals. Its main disadvantage is its reproduction. Because of the vulnerability to being eaten after hatching, only one in every 1000 Leatherback turtle hatchlings reaches adulthood. This isn’t a problem when adult turtle populations are healthy and numerous. However, declining numbers of adult turtles means we now face an alarming prospect of acting swiftly to save the turtles or else lose them forever.
There are several reasons for the drop in adult population. One of the most damaging has been harvesting of turtle eggs for food and medicinal purposes. In Asia, the Leatherback Turtle population has been nearly decimated because eggs are harvested at an unsustainable rate. And as with so many other endangered species, there remains a belief that the turtle contains the qualities of a powerful aphrodesiac. Poaching has increased to fill a market that provides supposed mojo in the bedroom at the expense of wildlife.
Finally, there’s the problem of industrial fishing and overfishing practices. Up until the 1990s, a majority of fishing was seine fishing that focused on targeted species. Now, the explosion of industrial bottom trawling that doesn’t discriminate against species caught in the nets has played a large role in pushing the Leatherback Turtle to the brink of extinction.