Malay common name: Penyu Belimbing
English common name: Leatherback Sea Turtle
Scientific name: Dermochelys coriacea
Photo Source: DCA Endangered Species
I’m quite unique because I don’t have a hard shell like other sea turtles. Instead of bone and cartilage, my shell is made of a tough layer of skin stretched over thousands of tiny bone plates. It has seven ridges that run the length of my back. This streamlined shell design along with my strong front flippers helps me swim long distances without tiring. I can grow up to 2.13 metres long, making me the largest of the sea turtles. What do I eat that helps me to grow this big and strong? Surprisingly, jellyfish and similar creatures like salps. I have sharp cusps on my jaws to pierce the soft bodies of my prey and my throat is lined with downward-facing spines to prevent anything I have swallowed from escaping. Occasionally, I also eat fish and small crustaceans but I have to be careful because my jaws aren’t strong enough to crush hard shells.
You can usually find me in the open ocean around the world in tropical and temperate waters. I can dive up to 1,200 metres below the surface and am the only known reptile that is active at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius. I can travel the longest distances, compared to all other sea turtles, stretching from as far north as Alaska all the way down to South Africa.
We females will usually return to the same beach where we hatched as babies in order to lay our own eggs. Back in the 1950s, over 10,000 of us nested in Malaysia. But then very few of us returned to lay our eggs here and, in 2006, only five nests were found. Thankfully, we are making a comeback in Terengganu. In the year 2016, 1,500 nests were found there on beaches like Rantau Abang! You can come and try to spot me there. If you see me, be sure to keep a safe distance and don’t take my eggs; it’s illegal in Terengganu.
Here’s a video about why it’s so important that my species survive.