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A hatchling leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Photo credit: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill this week that named the Pacific leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) the official state marine reptile. The Pacific leatherback joins the desert tortoise as official state reptiles. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the bill's author, Assemblyman Paul Fong of Sunnyvale hopes that the designation will inform Californians and draw attention to the chelonian's endangered status.
"This bill demonstrates California’s commitment to protecting our ocean’s ecosystem and a species whose population has declined more than 95% and whose migratory pattern includes California's coast," Fong said in a prepared statement.
The Pacific leatherback turtle is the largest turtle and the largest living reptile in the world. It can grow to more than six feet in length and can weigh more than 2,000 pounds. It is different from other sea turtles in that rather than a bony hard shell, the turtle's carapace is made of an oily leathery skin. Commercial fishing is a major cause of death to this animal and it is estimated that the eastern Pacific Ocean has seen a 90 percent decline in leatherback turtles in the last 32 years. Worldwide, the estimate of nesting females is between 2,000 and 5,700 animals. In January, more than 42,000 square miles of ocean 200 miles off the west coast of the United States was designated protected habitat for the sea turtle.