Department of Parks adn Wildlife

What is a leatherback turtle? The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest of all sea turtles. The shells alone can reach 1.6 metres long and the turtles can weigh a massive 500 kilograms. The unusual shell and the relatively large shoulders and huge front flippers make them look almost like weird sea monsters and they are the fastest swimmers of all marine turtles.

What does it look like? It has quite an unusual appearance compared with other turtles, as the shell is leathery and largely blackish in colour with five distinctive ridges that run along the full length of the shell. The black shell and other parts of the body have a smattering of light spots.

Graphic : Location Map of Leatherback Turtles in Western Australia Where does it live? Leatherback turtles have the widest distribution of any turtle. They are found mainly offshore but regularly inhabit coastal waters as far south as Cape Naturaliste in the Ngari Capes Marine Park and occasionally stray into the Southern Ocean as far east as Esperance.

What they eat and how: Leatherback turtles feed mainly on jellyfish and other soft-bodied marine animals such as squid.

Threats: Entanglement in fishing gear is the main cause of death along the WA coast. Leatherback turtles also take longline fishing hooks and drown. The species is rare and its breeding grounds in many parts of the world are under threat, so even a few deaths each year can have a big impact on loggerhead turtle numbers.

Breeding: Leatherback turtles do not nest in WA. Apart from scattered nesting in Arnhem Land and Queensland, their nearest nesting areas are in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Behaviour: This species forages widely through both coastal and open ocean waters, taking food from the surface through to great depths.

Conservation status: The leatherback turtle is a threatened species classed as vulnerable in Western Australia, but its international status is critically endangered.

Leatherback turtle

How you can protect the leatherback turtle: Always dispose of plastic bags and other litter carefully, so a turtle doesn’t accidentally eat them and die. If you should find a dead leatherback turtle it is important to contact the Wildcare Helpline or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.