Commonly Encountered Sea Turtles

COSEWIC-CSofWSSea turtles have lived with the dinosaurs and, as far as we know, have remained almost unchanged for 100 million years. Of the seven species that occur in our oceans, two species, the leatherback and loggerhead turtle, are commonly reported or encountered. Profiles of these species can be found below. Canadian species conservation status as assessed either by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and/ or listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is indicated for each species.

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DescriptionLeatherback Turtle

Species At Risk: Endangered
Maximum Size: 4 to 6 ft (130 – 183 cm)
Colour: Dark grey or black with white or pale spots, while the plastron is whitish to black and marked by 5 ridges
Key Features:
1) Head has a deeply notched upper jaw with 2 cusps
2) Lacks a hard shell, but is composed of a layer of thin, tough, rubbery skin
3) Carapace is large, elongated and flexible with 7 distinct ridges running the length of the animal
4) All flippers are without claws

DescriptionLoggerhead Turtle

Species At Risk: Endangered
Maximum Size: 2.5 to 3.5 ft in carapace length (80 to 110 cm)
Colour: Reddish-brown with a yellowish-brown plastron
Key Features:
1) Very large head with heavy strong jaws
2) Carapace is heart-shaped and bony without ridges
3) Carapace has large, non-overlapping, rough scutes (scales) present with 5 lateral scute
4) Front flippers are short and thick with 2 claws, while the rear flippers can have 2 or 3 claws

For more information on sea turtles, visit the Canadian Sea Turtle Network.

The Canadian Sea Turtle Network is a unique, grassroots, science-based group: We work with fishermen to help prevent leatherbacks from entanglement in commercial fishing gear. Entanglement is one of the greatest threats to the survival of leatherbacks worldwide. They partnership with the fishing community also results in groundbreaking scientific research on leatherbacks—research that has unravelled parts of the leatherback mystery.