The largest turtle in the world

The leatherback turtle on display at National Museum Cardiff was washed ashore on Harlech beach,


, in September 1988. Sadly, the turtle had drowned after being trapped by fishing lines. It was approximately 100 years old when it died. The turtle attracted worldwide attention as it was the largest and heaviest turtle ever recorded, measuring almost 3m (9ft) in length and weighing 914 kilos (2,016 pounds).


The turtle's arrival on the beach saw a flurry of activity by Museum staff who were keen to exhibit the turtle. However, preparing such a specimen for display was not straightforward.

Leatherback turtle

The turtle had to be flipped upside down before repairing cracks on the underside.

Displaying the world's largest turtle

After undergoing an autopsy for scientific information, the skin was removed and preserved and a mould of the body shape was made. The preserved skin was stretched over the mould to produce a lifelike pose.

The skeleton was also removed and prepared for display alongside the body. The taxidermy mount and associated skeleton were then put on display in their own gallery, with linking displays on the leatherback's history, threats, ecology and conservation.

Leatherback turtle

The Leatherback being cleaned and repaired

Sixteen years on

After 16 years on display, significant cracks had started to appear on the specimen. There had long been problems with cracking, and it had been patched up over the years. Low humidity was identified as a cause, so there was no choice but to close the gallery and conserve this popular specimen properly.

The first stage was to clean the turtle of its layer of dust and oily grime. A non-ionic detergent removed the worst of the dirt.

Once reasonably clean the next stage was to return the distorted parts of the specimen back to the correct shape. This involved soaking the exterior with a solution of deionised water, salt and detergent, enabling it to be moved back into position.

Removing old repairs

Once the specimen was dry, the old repairs were removed. This was a long and slow process requiring care so as not to damage the turtle's skin any further. A large amount of the skin had been painted black some years before, so this also had to be removed. This was achieved with acetone and a mobile fume extraction system.

Once the previous repairs and paint were removed, the turtle's original patterns and skin texture could be seen once more. Gaps and splits in the specimen were then filled in and painted over to blend with the turtle's original skin colour and texture.

Letherback turtle

The Turtle after conservation

Leatherback Turtle

The leatherback turtle in its new display at the National Museum, Cardiff


The skeleton was also carefully cleaned before the finished turtle was re-hung as before. After 4 months of work, the turtle gallery could finally be re-opened to the public.

Another journey for the turtle

Conditions in the turtle gallery were continuing to cause conservation problems. As a result, during 2006 the turtle was moved to a new location in the adjoining 'Man and the Environment' gallery, next to the humpbacked whale. The new space has better environmental conditions, allowing the turtle to remain on open display. In addition, the information panels have been renewed with up-to-date information. The turtle now sits as a fine addition to this gallery space.

Comments (33)

17 November 2021, 15:11
i love turtles thar my fav
3 October 2021, 11:29
3 March 2021, 18:04

John m edwards
16 December 2020, 10:06
Thank you for your excellent work. You obviously have many talented individuals there conducting important work. Thanks from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.
22 September 2020, 22:26
John Mohrbeck
21 August 2020, 04:07
We were about a mile to the northeast of Palm Beach Inlet. I told my buddy watch out we had to dodge around a turtle that come up in front of us that could not submerge fast enough we had to go avoid it .It was approximately 10 to 12 ft long and good 6 ft wide.It had Barnacles that were 8-10 inches in diameter on the shell. The head was two or three the size of a foot ball.
Robert Denkewalter
6 July 2019, 17:58
While deep see fishing out of the Florida Keys
in 1971 a 7 foot sea turtle came within a few feet
Of our boat. I wish we had a camera as that was a giant turtle and beautiful sea creature
3 May 2019, 14:05
turtles are not my favorite animal to play with ;)
Mika Schenkenberger
19 March 2019, 11:22
Those are giant turtles
9 October 2018, 14:20
that is awsome
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