Now first Leatherback Turtle of 2008!....UPDATE

24th Feb 2008 Report II

The Leatherback turtle was brought down to UCD 25/02/08 where a post mortem examination was carried out. Dr Tom Doyle, UCC reports that it was a male, measuring 152 cm (curved carapace length). "

...It had a major head wound (part of skull was missing but healed over see photo) which may have eventually killed it. However, we are waiting for some results back before we will confirm the cause of death. The hole in the head was probably caused by a propeller. And like the last turtle opened up in July 2006 (Ballycotton, Cork) it had a plastic bag in its gut"

Report II: 21/02/08

We have just heard from colleagues in the Environment & Heritage Service, Northern Ireland, that the turtle has died, and is currently in Exploris Aquarium, Portaferry. A decision will be taken over the coming hours as to whether it will undergo post mortem examination, which may give us some idea as to the circumstances surrounding its stay in Strangford Lough. We'll keep you posted.

Leatherback turtle, Strangford Lough 22/02/08 © Gary Burrows, EHS

Report I: 19/02/08

Hot on the heels of the first basking shark sighting of 2008 from the St. George's Channel area, offshore Co. Wexford, comes another remarkable sighting from well inside Strangford Lough, Co. Down of the 1st Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea of 2008 in Irish waters. The adult which is estiamted at c5-6ft in diameter was first observed in the area on Friday 15th Feb 2008.

Leatherback turtle, Strangford Lough 17/02/08 © Andy Elliott

Andy Elliott of reports ....." The turtle was foul hooked on the shell where it meets the neck. I was fishing with a fly rod and a 12lb tippet so it would have broken before the turtle pulled me down. It took 45 mins to get it to the kayak... actually I'll rephrase that .. it took 45 mins to get the kayak to the turtle. The hook came out very easily and no damage was done to the turtle apart from a little indignation!"

Leatherback turtle, Strangford Lough 17/02/08 © Andy Elliot

As with the previous day's (16/02/08) basking shark record see article and sighting on, this is an exceptional record, as IWDG have validated no record of this species in Irish waters earlier than June. That said, we understand from Dr Tom Doyle, UCC that there is one record of a leatherback turtle from Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork in January. This record however is supported with images confirming its species.

The leatherback turtle is the largest of the turtle species, and infact the world's heaviest reptile, weighing upwards of 1,000 lbs. These long-distance travellers feed primarily on species of jellyfish. Despite being a reptile, it has in common with marine mammals an internal mechanism which enables it tolerate extremes of water temperature. Most sightings of this vagrant in Irish waters are during the summer months and off the Irish south coast, which likely reflects on the distribution of watch effort during summer months.

Leatherback turtle, Strangford Lough 17/02/08 © Andy Elliot

Although the IWDG's focus is clearly cetaceans in Irish waters, we will continue to validate and process sightings of other large marine megafauna species, and make sure these records are passed on to the appropriate agencies and researchers.

A huge thank you to Andy Elliott for passing on this story and wonderful images to IWDG.

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator

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