Leatherback turtle carcass, found off Cornish coast, is brought to ZSL for Post Mortem examination
Thursday 24 May 2001
A carcass of an adult male leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was brought to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on Wednesday 23 May for post mortem examination by Veterinary pathologists Dr Andrew Cunningham and Paul Jepson.
The turtle was found on Monday 21 May, tangled in a lobster-pot line, by a local fisherman in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes, north Cornwall. Having retrieved the animal, which was already dead, the fisherman contacted the Cornwall Wildlife Trust who in turn reported it to Rod Penrose from Marine Environmental Monitoring.
"I was surprised to receive a report of a leatherback stranding so early in the year," comments Rod Penrose. "These type of strandings are seasonal and usually occur from August onwards."
Weighing over 300kgs and measuring 2.1m, the turtle was transported in a flatbed truck to the ZSL’s pathology unit at Regent’s Park.
At the end of last year, the responsibility for the post mortem investigations of turtles was assigned to the UK Marine Mammal Strandings Project based at ZSL, which is funded by DETR.
"As part of the Marine Mammal Strandings Project we regularly carry out post mortem examinations on dolphins, porpoises and whales," says Paul Jepson, Veterinary Pathologist. "Leatherback turtle strandings are rare, and it is helpful in our continuing studies into the environmental effects on marine animals."
It is difficult to speculate on the turtle’s age and cause of death until further post mortem examinations have been carried out.
"It is very important to determine causes of death to assess whether there are any underlying problems, such as infectious disease or pollution," says Dr Andrew Cunningham, ZSL’s Veterinary Pathologist. "Determining the health status of our wildlife plays an important role in conservation."
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are more commonly found in warmer waters of North America and the Caribbean. Leatherbacks have become seriously endangered in the wild due to over-collection of eggs and the killing of adults for oil and meat.
Any further strandings or sightings of marine turtles should be reported to Marine Environmental Monitoring on 01348 875000.
For further information please contact:
Zoological Society of London Public Relations Office:
Peter Beatty: 020 7449 6361
Debbie Curtis: 020 7449 6363
Fax: 020 7449 6362
Notes to Editors:
The leatherback turtle has a worldwide distribution. It is found from tropical to sub-polar oceans; nests on tropical (rarely subtropical) beaches. Very little is known about the distribution of post-hatchlings and juveniles. Leatherbacks smaller than 100cm curved carapace length seem limited to regions warmer than 26 degrees centigrade.
They nest on sandy beaches. The juveniles may remain in tropical waters warmer than 26 degrees centigrade, near the coast, until they exceed 100cm in curved carapace length. When adults, they are pelagic; living in open ocean sometimes in temperatures below 10 degrees centigrade.
Leatherback turtles are critically endangered. The main threats have been a prolonged harvest of eggs and the incidental capture in oceanic fisheries. In some areas the egg harvest and illegal poaching has removed more than 95% of the clutches. Fishing activities using longline and driftnets are an important threat since juveniles and adults are captured in migratory routes. Oceanic pollution, basically by plastics is another cause of mortality.
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