Leatherback Turtle Dies in China

Editor’s note: this post is courtesy of Sea Turtles 911, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing sea turtles in the South China Sea.

Chinese fishermen have reported the death of a Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) on Hainan Island, China. The turtle was caught as by-catch by a fishing vessel on November 24 and held in a concrete saltwater pool. Leatherback turtles are adapted to the open ocean, so they swim continuously against tank walls since these pelagic turtles do not recognize physical barriers.Contact with the rough surface caused tissue abrasions, bone exposure, and infection on the Leatherback’s nose, flippers, and ridges along the back of its shell.

When the turtle’s finger bones protruded from its skin and began falling out, the fisherman housing the turtle reportedly searched online for information on how to care for Leatherbacks in captivity. After failed attempts at restoring its health, the fisherman contacted Sea Turtles 911, the American based sea turtle conservation organization that operates in China. Medical volunteers experienced in sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation immediately arrived on the scene to help, but upon examination of the Leatherback her condition was terminal.

Sea Turtles 911 Founding Director Frederick Yeh describes, “She was very weak, very far gone. Despite the emergency treatments we performed, there was little we could do at that point to save her. Leatherbacks are particularly vulnerable to injury in captivity, and the fisherman contacted us much too late. The waste of such a precious life is heartbreaking.”

The turtle was a female weighing approximately 500 pounds (227 kg) and measured 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length. The local Hainan name for Leatherbacks literally translates into ‘tire turtle’ due to their black, rubbery bodies resembling the appearance of a tire. Leatherback sea turtles are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, primarily due to direct harvest by humans who take their eggs from nesting beaches, or kill the turtles for their meat, leathery skin, and for oil extraction. Leatherbacks have no cultural significance in Chinese trade, unlike Green (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles, which incur high prices in the illegal market. However, fishermen will bring by-catch Leatherbacks onto land and attempt to sell them.

It is unknown how many Leatherback sea turtles are bought and sold illegally in China, or what they do in the surrounding waters, but the frequency of local fishermen reporting ‘tire turtle’ sightings suggests possible migration routes past the island. Yeh is determined to find out for certain, “This beautiful, rare sea turtle’s death cannot be in vain. We need more resources to help us find out what the Leatherbacks are doing here, and how many are being taken by local fishermen. Only then will we be properly equipped to protect them.”


Related Stories:

1,000 Critically Endangered Turtles Swim to Freedom in Thailand

Make Money By Saving Baby Sea Turtles

20,000 Baby Leatherbacks Crushed By Bulldozers in Trinidad


Photo: USFWS/Southeast/flickr


Knut F.
Knut F6 years ago

We humans still need to learn a lot more about the necessary freedom of our animal friends. Most animals do not need people.
And eventually, after most fish species have disappeared - people must learn to cope with jelly fish, however they are no fish!

Carrie Anne Brown

very sad news but thanks for sharing.. RIP

Thorn Briar
Past Member 6 years ago

Poor thing

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright6 years ago

This is very upsetting. There was no reason why this turtle had to die. I agree with Ravi, what a waste and what a shame.


Abc D.
Past Member 6 years ago

I do not know much about the Leatherback Turtles. Can there be an ocean sanctuary area declared for them there, along with other sanctuary areas dedicated to helping the other oceanic endangered species?

Tolga U.
Tolga U6 years ago

china! stop treating the animals like that. asians are the cruelest nation in the world.

rhonda dorothy knight
rhonda knight6 years ago

Another" oops! oh,it's just a turtle, who cares". moment in not only Asia's miserable cruel history but man's history,where pain and suffering is expected when the great almighty dollar calls.

Vera Dixon
Laveria Dixon6 years ago

How sad... why did they take so long to seek help... sigh!!

Sandi C.
Sandi C6 years ago


Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton6 years ago

So sad.