Field Guide to Maryland's Turtles (Order Testudines)

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea​​)

Common Name:

​Leatherback Sea Turtle

Photo of Leatherback Sea Turtle courtesy of Scott R. Benson,
NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Size: 53-70 inches. Record - 96 inches

  • This is the largest species of turtle in the world.
  • The brown, black or bluish-black carapace (top shell) lacks horny scutes, but is covered with a ridged and leathery skin.
  • Seven ridges run the length of the body.
  • The carapace may also have a variable number of white or pink blotches.
  • The whitish plastron (bottom shell) has five longitudinal ridges.
  • The head, neck and limbs are black to dark green, also with a variable number of white or pink blotches.


Primarily open ocean (pelagic) but can occasionally be found near shore or in the shallow waters of bays and estuaries. They follow drifting schools of jellyfish, their main prey.

How to Find:

A very rare sight. Keep a lookout when boating offshore through large schools of jellyfish. As our other sea turtles, dead individuals occasionally wash up on beaches.

Distribution in Maryland:

Off-shore Worcester County. This turtle is listed as Federally and State Endangered. If found, please report sightings to the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service. If found stranded or dead, please report sightings.​