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A giant sea turtle swims into the California Legislature

Leatherback sea turtle hiding its eggs.
Leatherback sea turtle hiding its eggs.
Photo by rustinpc via Flickr Creative Commons

The California Legislature is considering a nomination for the title of "official state marine reptile," and the honor of becoming the newest state animal may go to the endangered, 2,000-pound leatherback sea turtle.

The world’s largest sea turtle creeped onto the floor via a bill introduced Friday by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) that would see the creature added to "a growing list of official state animals and plants such as the California quail (the state bird) the gray whale (state marine mammal), plants like the California poppy (state flower) and even extinct megafauna like the saber-toothed cat (the state fossil)," details the L.A. Times.

Its sun-loving relative, the desert tortoise, has been California's state reptile since 1972.

The federal government is preparing to designate 41,000 square miles of the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington as "critical habitat for the sea turtles," notes the Times, and the the symbolic gesture of adding the leatherback to CA's list of official critters is intended to raise species protection awareness.

Disease, egg harvesting and fishing entanglements have been blamed for plummeting numbers that have seen a population drop of more than 95 percent since the 1980s.

“Leatherback sea turtles are in danger of becoming extinct and we need stronger conservation efforts in order to protect these remarkable creatures,” Fong said last month in a news release announcing the legislation. The 2,000-pound, 8-foot-long sea turtles have been around for 100 million years and are known for swimming thousands miles across the Pacific each year from nesting beaches in Indonesia, Mexico and Costa Rica to the U.S. West Coast, where they feed on jellyfish.