Discover the Official California State Marine Reptile

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: September 7, 2023
Share this post on:


Did you know that California has an official state marine reptile? California has many official state animals and symbols. Although known as the Golden State, many people know California for its beautiful blue beaches and lovely coastline. Within the coasts are special animals, including the sea turtle you’ll learn about today. Follow along to discover the official California state marine reptile!

What is the Official California State Marine Reptile?

The official California state marine reptile is the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. The state designated the leatherback sea turtle as California’s official state marine reptile in 2012. Not only is this large and precious sea turtle an official state symbol but it is celebrated on an important day. Every October 13 in California is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day.

leatherback turtle
In California, every October 3rd is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day.

©Stephanie Rousseau/

Only The Top 1% Can Ace our Animal Quizzes

Think You Can?

About the Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are the largest living turtles in the world. They are the only species in the genus Dermochelys. These sea turtles are currently listed as critically endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Description and Size

What do Pacific leatherback sea turtles look like? These sea turtles are the easiest to identify and distinguish. They have large teardrop-shaped bodies and flexible leather-like skin. This is unlike other sea turtle species that have hard bony shells. Leatherback sea turtles have grey and black bodies with white spots. They also have very large and strong flippers which help them swim far.

One of the most impressive things about a Pacific leatherback sea turtle is its size! Although they are about 6 to 7.2 feet long, the largest recorded Pacific leatherback sea turtle was almost 10 feet long. As you can guess, these very strong swimmers are also very heavy. They can weigh anywhere from 550 to 2,000 pounds.

Most Pacific leatherback sea turtles reach about 6 to 7.2 feet long.

© stock


The majority of a Pacific leatherback sea turtle’s diet consists of jellyfish. They are very important to their environment as they keep jellyfish populations stable. Although they mainly eat jellyfish, this sea turtle species also consume other soft-bodied organisms and possibly fish.


Leatherback sea turtles don’t have many predators. They are large animals that can hit speeds up to 22 mph. Sharks are the only predators of adult leatherback sea turtles. Hatchlings and juvenile leatherbacks though are very vulnerable. Very few hatchlings survive to adulthood. Only about 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood. Eggs and hatchlings are vulnerable to sea mammals, dogs, birds, and more.


Leatherback sea turtles are found throughout the world, with two main genetically different populations. However, some sources indicate that a third is recognized. The Atlantic Ocean subpopulation ranges from as far north as the North Sea. Leatherback sea turtles are known for their ability to withstand cold water. These beautiful sea animals can maintain high body temperatures. Although there are nesting sites in the Atlantic Ocean, these turtles mainly travel there to feed. While this is true, the best nesting sites in the Atlantic Ocean are on beaches in Gabon, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and French Guinea.

The Pacific Ocean subpopulation inhabits the Pacific Ocean. This subpopulation though is divided into two. The west subpopulation feeds throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. Popular nesting beaches include Papua, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. The eastern population though mainly forages and nests along the western coast of South America. One of the most common leatherback sea turtle nesting spots is along the coast of Florida. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, leatherback sea turtles most commonly nest in Palm Beach County. 

Leatherback sea turtles are losing their nesting environments. As beaches develop, it becomes harder for these beautiful sea turtles to dig and find a good spot.

Why are Leatherback Sea Turtles Endangered?

Sadly, there has been a sharp decline in nesting leatherback sea turtles. They’ve been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. Currently, experts estimate there are about 30,000 to 40,000 nesting leatherback sea turtles left in the world. So, what’s causing this decline? Why are Pacific leatherback sea turtles endangered?

The answer isn’t as simple as you’d think. Many factors are causing the Pacific leatherback sea turtle’s decline like loss of nesting habitats, accidental catching, ocean pollution, and climate change.

Baby Leatherback Turtle Going to the Surf
Leatherback sea turtles are listed as endangered.


Loss of Nesting Sites

Leatherback sea turtles are losing their nesting environments. They nest on soft sandy beaches at night with the moon to guide them. As beaches develop, it becomes harder for these beautiful sea turtles to dig and find a good spot. They bump into chairs, umbrellas, and other debris left behind.

Too much light is also a problem. Artificial lights sometimes blind and confuse leatherback sea turtles and they travel in the opposite direction of the water. Hatchlings follow the moon’s reflection on the ocean into the water. If they go the wrong way, they are left vulnerable to predators like birds.

Accidental Catches

Accidental catching is also a big issue for leatherback sea turtles. Although sea turtles are aquatic animals, they still need to come up and breathe air. Leatherback sea turtles can hold their breath for several minutes up to 2 hours. However, when actively swimming, they need to come up for air more frequently. Sadly, these turtles get tangled in fishing nets constantly and drown.

Ocean Pollution

Another major reason why leatherback sea turtle populations are declining is ocean pollution. Plastic bags are common in the ocean. Plastic bags while floating in the water resemble jellyfish. It’s not uncommon for a leatherback sea turtle to confuse a plastic bag for a jellyfish. They can choke on plastic bags and other debris. Not only can sea turtles choke from consuming plastic, but also starve. Sadly, even consuming one piece of plastic can be deadly for sea turtles. According to one study, sea turtles have a 22% chance of dying if they eat one piece of plastic.

The Featured Image

leather-back sea turtle
leatherback sea turtle

Share this post on:
About the Author

I have been a professional content writer for 6 years now, with a large focus on nature, gardening, food, and animals. I graduated from college with an A.A, but I am still pursuing a Bachelors of Marketing degree. When I am not writing, you can find me in front of my TV with a blanket, snacks, and my fur babies.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.