What is the largest sea turtle in the world?

Turtles are fascinating prehistoric animals, and some are absolutely massive. What is the largest sea turtle in the world, and what is the biggest turtle ever recorded?

There are some absolutely massive turtles out there!
There are some absolutely massive turtles out there!  © Tanguy Sauvin / Unsplash

Everyone has heard of the Galápagos Tortoise who is famous for being ginormous, but few people have even thrown a thought in the direction of larger-sized turtles. These finned animals are pretty darn fascinating, so we're going to pay them some of the respect they deserve!

Prepare for your mind to be blown, as this animal record reveals some of the largest turtles in the world – both in terms of species and in terms of individuals. Let's dive in...

What is the world's largest sea turtle?

The leatherback turtle is considered the largest living breed of sea turtle in the world. It is also the heaviest non-crocodilian reptile in the world and one of the most widely-distributed sea creatures known to man. These beasts might look cute in pictures, but if you came across them while swimming, you'd probably get a little bit concerned...

How big is the largest sea turtle?

The leatherback turtle can grow up to about 5–6 feet in length, making them almost double the average size of the "Giant Turtle" species. Their shells are huge, heavy, and tear-shaped, and their flippers also live up to that "largest turtle in the world" classification, sometimes even measuring at more than five feet.

Fun facts about the biggest turtle species

It would be bereft of us to simply talk about the leatherback turtle's size, and to ignore their other fascinating characteristics. Let's get into some interesting fun facts...

Leatherback turtle's appearance and name origin

Curiously, leatherback turtles don't feature the typical dorsal shield (with horny scales) that you come to expect from other turtles. Instead, their bony carapace is streamlined and enclosed in sturdy, leathery skin. This is their namesake.

At the front of their body, leatherback turtles feature fins worthy of such a beast. Acting as large paddles, these fins allow them to cover large areas of water rather quickly, making them so some of the most powerful swimmers in the turtle family despite their immense weight.

Habitat of the leatherback turtle

Leatherback turtles generally live in tropical or subtropical areas, but can also be found in cooler temperate waters. This versatility means that they often cover migratory distances of many hundred miles. They reach as far north as Norway and as far south as southern New Zealand.

Most of these giant reptiles exist in the Atlantic, Pacific, and West-Pacific Oceans, though they're not exclusive to these particular oceans. They are also extraordinary divers, and are believed capable of descending to depths of 4,000 feet on occasion, going without air for many, many hours at a time.

How do leatherback turtles reproduce?

Like all reptiles, female Leatherbacks come ashore to lay eggs. They dig a small hollow on a sandy beach and lay many eggs, cover them with sand, and then disappear back into the sea. These eggs are then hatched by the warmth of the sun after a few months. The young baby turtles will immediately enter the ocean upon birth, crawling across the beach and into the water.

What do the biggest turtles eat and how much do they weigh?

These giant turtles predominantly eat jellyfish, squid, sponges, crabs, clams, plankton, and a variety of shellfish. Sadly, due to the increasing contamination of our oceans and their particular fondness for jellyfish, many leatherback turtles die after eating plastic bags floating in the water. This has somewhat contributed to their endangered status.

Leatherback turtles are also the heaviest of all turtles, sometimes coming in at a whopping 1500 pounds in weight. Considering just how heavy they can become, it's a wonder that some leatherback turtles can swim and dive at all!

After hatching, leatherback turtles head straight into the water.
After hatching, leatherback turtles head straight into the water.  © 123RF / Shakeelsafeek

What was the largest sea turtle ever recorded?

The largest sea turtle ever recorded was, according to Guinness World Records, a large leatherback turtle discovered dead on a Welsh beach in 1988. This giant specimen measured 9 feet in length and weighed a total of 2120 pounds. It is still the undisputed champion for the title of biggest sea turtle!

The largest turtle ever was huge!

There are some giant, finned reptiles out there. They might not quite rival their tortoise cousins, but that doesn't mean that you'd be unimpressed if you saw one in the wild.

Leatherback turtles are so massive that they are considered the heaviest non-crocodilian reptiles in the world. The biggest turtles in the world are distributed right across the globe, making them a truly versatile and impressive species.

Cover photo: Tanguy Sauvin / Unsplash

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