This amazing creature was found just last Thursday (23 Oct) within sight of the Isle of May just a mile off Dunbar. It is a leatherback turtle and to get an idea of its size it was 6 ft long and weighed about 350kg. Unfortunately it was dead, and scientists from the National Museum of Scotland attributed its death to getting tangled in creel lines. They don’t look like they belong in UK waters but they are actually annually sighted, usually between July and October with 4 having been found this autumn. The last Forth sighting was in 2009. These regular sightings mean that because they are globally critically endangered then they are covered under the European habitats directive and the UK has a responsibility to reduce risks of accidental capture and death.
Leatherback turtles defy all that you might think about turtles. Though they lay their eggs on tropical beaches, the adults can actually be found in oceans all across the globe even sub-arctic waters. There is a lot not known about their lives but it seems that the females breed every 3-4 years and inbetween times go wandering on foraging trips around the globe’s oceans feeding on jellyfish. They can maintain a stable body temperature even in cold waters due to being huge,by laying down layers of fat and adjusting their metabolic rate and amount of activity. However some people suggest that those that make it this far north are brought accidentally by ocean currents. It seems amazing that an animal of this size (the largest ever weighed topped the scales at 900kg) grows on jelly fish alone. It does take them about 20 years to reach maturity and then they can live for at least 50 years or longer.
A number of turtles found dead around the UK died from eating plastic bags. It seems that they mistake them floating in the water for jellyfish and the bags get compacted in the throat or gut so eventually killing the animal. It is a terrible thought that an animal that has taken so long to mature to such a grand state can be killed by something so cheap and flimsy and irresponsibly disposed of. It is an encouraging thought that the leatherback turtle might benefit from the incoming plastic bag tax being introduced in Scotland.