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.


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
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
20 June 2018, 10:53

Hi Peggy and Katy

Thanks both for your comments, and thank you for your patience as I got back to you!

My colleagues in the Natural Science department recommend contacting a local nature group - they will have a much better chance of identifying a local specimen.

The recommended the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Sea Turtle Conservancy. I'm sure the latter will also be able to settle the question of whether the facebook videos you've seen are real, or augmented in some way.

This page on the Florida Museum website might also provide you with more interesting facts about these wonderful creatures.

It's so great that you've found our page and I hope you continue to enjoy nature where you are - and don't forget to come and see our turtle if ever you visit the UK!

Best wishes,


Digital Team

Katie Condo
3 June 2018, 00:41
Would love to know what answer you get if any. I'm also from Florida and have never seen any turtle that would be that big except way off the coast and it was a sea turtle. We live in Pasco county and although I've seen some very big Gopher turtles but their heads are always tiny. Too bad you couldn't post pictures on here. The video of the leatherback going back into the water on facebook is what made me find this page after googling to see how big they get. So many people are on there saying it's a fake and they are using camera tricks but I don't think so. They are amazing creatures, I just can't imagine all the things and places they have seen in their life time.
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
30 May 2018, 10:21

Hi there Peggy,

What an interesting find! Thank you for sharing your comment with us. I'm going to get in touch with our Curators to see if we can answer your question - we might want to follow up by email so we can see pictures of your find.

Hope you had a good Memorial Day weekend and thank you again for getting in touch,

Digital Team

Peggy Etheridge
25 May 2018, 16:36
I have a question... my son found a turtle skull this past weekend while we were camping. I measured the width of the skull and it's 6 inches across. I assumed it was a gopher turtle which are common here in Florida. Then today I looked up gopher turtles and they don't get that big, 12lbs. So that skull he found wasn't a gopher. I have pictures I can send you if that would help. Im dying to know what kind of turtle gets that big. It honestly looks as big as the one you have on display.
Thank you
7 May 2018, 03:31
My name is audrie I got two turtles from California both are girls ?
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.

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