Loggerhead turtles, which rarely venture into UK waters, have been spotted off a Dorset headland. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says the turtles, spotted near Swanage, may well be at risk of stranding on local beaches as the sea temperature drops.
The endangered turtles were spotted by a group of ramblers walking along the coast path at Durlston Head on Sunday 18 October.
“When one of our group said “it looks like a turtle”, I resorted to some pretty unsubtle persuasion in order to borrow the highest strength binoculars on the cliff,” said Sarah Fargher of Fuzzacker Guided Walks. “As it swam towards us its ochre skin and brown shell became unmistakable; I was so excited when I realised it must be a loggerhead. I just hope it makes its way back to warmer waters.”
The group also saw a second turtle. Sarah estimated the turtles to be about 50 metres from the shore and between two and three feet in length.
MCS Head of Biodiversity and Fisheries, Dr Peter Richardson, says that of the seven species of marine turtle, loggerheads breed at the most northerly latitudes, with the nearest breeding populations to the UK found in the Mediterranean, the Cape Verde Islands and the south eastern USA.
“This is a fantastic record because live loggerhead turtles are rarely spotted in UK seas, but to see two together is incredibly lucky,” said Dr Richardson.
Juvenile loggerheads spend their first few years swimming at the surface of the open ocean feeding on jellyfish and other creatures at the surface, before settling in inshore waters where they use their powerful beaks to eat crabs and other shellfish. Usually, young loggerheads thrive in warmer waters, but will stop feeding when sea temperatures drop below about 15 degrees Celsius.
“South West inshore surface temperatures waters are about 15 degrees at the moment. As the seas cool down these turtles will stop feeding, lose condition and suffer from acute hypothermia. If they are lucky, they may strand alive on a beach, and if found in time they can be rescued and rehabilitated back to health with specialist treatment”.
“Sometimes walkers will find a stranded turtle and put it back in the sea,” said Dr Richardson. “But this absolutely the wrong thing to do because hypothermic, stranded turtles will certainly perish if they are left in the water. We urge anyone who finds a turtle on UK shores to report it immediately, and try and make sure the tides don’t wash them back to sea”.
Live stranded turtles in the UK should be reported immediately to Marine Environmental Monitoring on 01239 683033.