Photo credit: USFWS
Yes, California does have sea turtles! The Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle is actually California's official state marine reptile! They've roamed the waters for 75 million years, and adults reach up to 2000 pounds and 8 feet long. This makes them the oldest and largest marine reptile in the Pacific. Leatherbacks are also known for their unusual leathery backs- they're the only sea turtle without a hard bony shell!
They're born on the coasts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Once hatched the tiny creatures instinctively make their way to the bright light on the horizon and into the ocean. What happens next to the hatchlings no one knows- it's called the "lost years," but hopefully most come back to nest as adults. Adults nest on the shores, then spend the large part of a year migrating 7000 miles to California waters, including the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where they feast on jellyfish.
This turtle is critically endangered, and the population has declined dramatically over the last couple decades. Scientists are concerned that climate change will affect their ability to survive. The temperature of the sand on the nested eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings, which can affect their ability to reproduce as a population. Amazing volunteers and beach monitors help protect these vulnerable nests from wild dogs and pigs, and also add shade to protect them from excessive heat (see photo below)!
Watch this video about Leatherbacks!