Leatherback Turtle Found Iced in a Cape Breton Lake

Interesting but sad news for turtle lovers far and wide – a 360 kilogram leatherback turtle was found washed up dead along a lake near Islandview, Cape Breton.


Leatherback Turtle In Bras d'Or Lake, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Freeing the leatherback turtle carcass from the ice of Bras d’Or lake, Cape Breton. Photo: Sue MacLean/Facebook

Residents of northern Nova Scotia have seen quite a few strange things over the years but never has something like this washed up from Bras d’Or Lake.

Last week a local Cape Bretoner, Ron MacLean, was out walking the shores in front of his home when he stumbled across this deceased Leatherback turtle, measuring about two meters from tip to tail and one meter across the shell.

MacLean told CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton:

When I touched it it was floating a bit, so it wasn’t moving, so I knew it was dead, but it was in good condition. It didn’t look like it was there that long, but that would be because, with the ice and the cold and such.”

As you can probably imagine moving such a large animal from the ice, all while keeping its integrity is no easy feat. The effort required tactful manoeuvring and the help of some sturdy wooden ramps and heavy machinery.

Leatherback Turtle Out Of The Ice in Cape Breton

It was no easy task getting the leatherbacks large body from the ice. Photo: Sue MacLean/Facebook

Leatherback Turtle On A Pallet Ready to Go to PEI

The leatherback ready to be transported to P.E.I for a necrospy. Photo: Sue MacLean/Facebook

For those who don’t know much about Leatherback turtles; this cold blooded creature is one of the world’s largest reptiles and can reach more that 2 meters in length weighing more than 900 kilograms. According to DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans), Leatherbacks are known to swim up to 12,000 kilometres a year and dive to depths of up to 1.2 kilometres.

As much as sea turtles have been sighted along Nova Scotia and Cape Breton’s shoreline during the summer, they typically move to warmer tropical waters in the winter time for nesting.

Why this big guy ended up so far north in the winter, is still a mystery but a few scientists have some very plausible hypothesis.

This was probably an animal that was probably feeding late into the year along the coastline in the open Atlantic side of Cape Breton […] It probably wondered into one of the inlets as it was feeding on jellyfish. I suspect, given where it was, it probably didn’t easily reorient to find its way back out into the open Atlantic.”

— Sea turtle biologist Mike James

Given the Leatherback endangered species status, finding one dead is always a blow to the population, but this death will not be in vain. Since its discovery, the animal carcass been removed and transported to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown PEI for a follow up necropsy.

Here scientists will be able to collect as much information as possible on this species, and hopefully use some of this data to eventually help this turtle population rebound.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Ready for a Necropsy at DFO

Preliminary tests suggest the leatherback sea turtle found frozen last week in Cape Breton likely died from starvation. Photo: The Canadian Press/HO, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Writers Note: Sources CBC News, Global News, the Canadian Sea Turtle Network and DFO. Photo Credit: Sue MacLean and The Canadian Press/HO, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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