The leatherback turtle is the largest species of turtle alive today. It can reach a total length of 2.5 m (8.2 ft.) with a weight of 680 kg (1,500 lb.). Unlike other turtles, the leatherback has no visible shell; instead, it has a carapace made up of hundreds of irregular bony plates, covered with a leathery skin.
Well adapted to life in the ocean, this reptile's front legs are well developed flippers, proportionally longer than in any other sea turtle, which propel it through the water. It feeds on jellyfish and other soft-bodied sea animals, as well as plants.
Nesting occurs from February to July, when females come ashore in bands and lay their 60 to 90 eggs in holes that have been dug in the sand. Seven weeks later, when the eggs hatch, the babies rush immediately to the water. The hatchlings average 61 mm long (2.4 in.) and 45.8 g in weight (1.6 oz.).
These rare turtles have the greatest distribution of any reptile. They live in tropical and temperate sea waters and are known to breed off the West Indies, Florida, the northeastern coast of South America, Senegal, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Peninsular Malaysia. They migrate well beyond the tropics and have been reported as far north as southern Alaska and Russia in the Pacific, and mid-Labrador (Canada) and Norway in the Atlantic. Their migration to the south takes them to Chile and southern Australia.