The leatherback turtle on display at National Museum Cardiff was washed ashore on Harlech beach, Gwynedd, 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 straight forward.

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 life-like 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 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.


1 April 2018, 12:59
I've seen a turtle about 4 metres round with large weed growth on it at night swimming in South Australian waters 20 years ago .I was fishing, I've never seen any bigger than this. And I know their no proof out there of footage alive ,I've seen the world's largest alive.
27 March 2018, 14:36
23 February 2018, 20:50
I love all turtles, my favorite are the giant turtles.
19 January 2018, 11:13
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaat
2 January 2018, 19:45
this is awsome
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
7 August 2017, 08:44

Hi Donna

Leatherback turtles reach maturity at approximately 13 to 14 years however their total lifespan is something of a mystery.

Very little is known about how long they live, with estimates ranging anywhere between 30 to 45 to 100 years. Actual documentation is rare, but general estimates seem to range between 30 to 50 years on average.

There is no reason that they might not live considerably longer as some other turtle species have very long lifespans.

J Gallichan, Curator, Invertebrate Biodiversity

Sara Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
3 August 2017, 14:03

Hi there Donna,

I will ask our curator and post their reply here.

Thank you for your enquiry

Digital Team

1 August 2017, 23:10
What is lifespan of leatherback barring any idiot huma
8 June 2017, 09:07
"Sadly, the turtle had drowned after being trapped by fishing lines." .. so 100 years old and killed by humans. So sad ...
30 April 2017, 02:21
i think and i know i saw something bigger as a filipino in samar we caught the giant turtle we even have the skull

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