Rhagor - Opening our national collections

The largest turtle in the world

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).

[image: Leatherback turtle]

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

[image: Leatherback turtle]

The Leatherback being cleaned and repaired

[image: Letherback turtle]

The Turtle after conservation

[image: Leatherback Turtle]

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

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.

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.

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.


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.

Article Date: 15 August 2007


Karsiyaka Turtle Watch on 25 August 2013, 07:11

I tell visitors on our beach about this turtle as they come to watch loggerhead/green nests excavated. Every year we protect nests found and excavate them after they have started to hatched naturally. Find out more on Face Book - Karsiyaka Turtle Watch.

Emma on 31 July 2013, 16:07

I have a 4 inch turtle if that turtle and mine stood next to each other mine would be microscopic

Damon short on 23 July 2013, 19:30

What a site loads to see and do well done

nithya devi on 27 March 2013, 10:26


Nikita Gothard on 22 October 2012, 07:40

This is amazing, especially the restoration.

seth on 4 October 2012, 01:07

I never thout a turtle could be that big!

francis kenneth on 25 September 2012, 12:19

this is cool!

Chris luginbuhl on 31 August 2012, 06:45

Will hope one day to get back to Wales and
see the Large Leatherback on display.

Glad to see that the museum had made the
investment to repair the speciman. Will
never forget coming to Wales and filming
this Giant of the Sea.

I remember my invite to come to the grand opening
of the exhibit a yr, after we had donated our film
and slides to your wonderful museum, As many of you
may remember there was a large industrial plastic
bag blocking the small intestine at the entrance
of the small intestine where digestion begins,

We have used this film in many TV shows education
the public on the dumping of plastics for which this
species mistakes for their major food the jellyfish,

All the best,

Chris Luginbuhl
The Luginbuhl Foundation

chris Luginbuhl on 3 December 2011, 20:13

I can never forget my experience coming to Cardiff,
Once for the filming of the giant Leatherback and the
other as I was very grateful to have been invited for
the grand opening of this exhibit,

I hope they are still using the slides and film that
we had donated to the museum,

Chris Luginbuhl

Fingle on 8 October 2011, 14:15

r u sure thats the largest turtle?

lyndaharris~live.co.uk on 5 September 2011, 11:33

great report , i am a member of T R N C Turtle Watch , thuis year we had 34 nests being next to Aligade beach ,will be taking this info back to Cyprus wiyh me.

ej on 2 August 2011, 03:54

i love turtles and it was very exiting to learn about this!!!! I will pass this on to a few people and hope the enjoyed it as much as i did!!!!

dull on 21 April 2011, 09:16

awsome turtle

autumn on 13 December 2010, 09:58

i never thought a turle can be so big

dhivya kaliswary on 1 November 2010, 09:28

this article is interresting .a like turtles because they look unique.

Leave a comment

Rate this article



Style and readability: