The Leatherback Sea Turtle
Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are classified as endangered throughout their range. They are named for their appearance. They do not have shells as other sea turtles do. Instead, their backs are covered by a slate black to bluish-black leathery skin (spotted by irregular white or pink patches) with seven prominent keels. They are the largest turtles in the world, reaching over 6 feet (2 meters) in length and 650-1,200 lbs. (295-544 kg) in weight. The largest specimen recorded weighed 2,016 lbs (916 kg).
Their diet consists almost entirely of jellyfish; many die from feeding on discarded plastic bags mistaken for jellyfish. They live primarily in tropical and subtropical seas, although they have been found as far north as Iceland and Norway, and, in the Pacific, as far south as New Zealand and Chile. They undergo long distance migrations between foraging and breeding grounds. They normally remain in deep water and have been documented to dive to 4,200 ft (1280 meters). Their fat enables them to maintain body core temperatures above the level of the surrounding sea water.
Found worldwide, their primary nesting beaches in the Atlantic are on the northern coast of South America and at various locations around the Caribbean. A few nest in Florida and on the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Mexico.
One leatherback nest was located at Padre Island National Seashore in 2008. Prior to this, the most recent nesting records in Texas were from the 1920s and 1930s at what later became Padre Island National Seashore. The National Seashore is the only location in Texas where leatherback nests have been recorded.