The Leatherback Turtle: an Endangered Species

The leatherback turtle is the world's largest reptile. It can reach over 2 m in length and weigh over 900 kg. Its shell is made of a thick cartilage covered with a tough skin similar to leather, which gave it its name. In our coastal waters, leatherbacks can be seen during the summer as they swim near the surface to feed on jellyfish.

Since 2003, leatherback turtles in Canada have been designated as an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act. This species is experiencing a serious, world-wide population decline and has lost 70% of its numbers in the last 15 years. Its late sexual maturity and the high mortality rate of its eggs and hatchlings contribute to its high vulnerability.

The Species at Risk Act protects leatherback turtles: it is forbidden to kill, harm, harass, or take a live specimen. Moreover, the law forbids anyone to possess a turtle, dead or alive, or a part of a turtle.

You can help the leatherback turtle

In Canadian waters, incidental catches in fishing gear are a major cause of mortality for leatherback turtles. Once entangled in fishing gear, in ropes, or other floating debris, leatherbacks can have trouble swimming and feeding, or even become incapable of surfacing to breathe.

What should you do if you see a leatherback turtle?

  • For further information or to report sightings of marine mammals or turtles, contact:
    Dr. Jack Lawson, Research Scientist
    Marine Mammals Section
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    P.O. Box 5667
    St. John’s, NL, Canada A1C 5X1
    Tel: (709)772-4423
    E-mail: whalesighting@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
  • Take a picture or shoot a video of the turtle.
  • Record the date, time, and, if possible, the position where the turtle was seen and send this information to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

For more information on aquatic species at risk, visit: Aquatic Species at Risk

This document is also available for downloading or viewing as a The Leatherback Turtle: an Endangered Species

DFO Number: DFO/2009-1570
Catalogue Number: Fs114-14/2009E
ISBN: 978-1-100-12121-5

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