After several days of cold, wet weather, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine by enjoying a walk on the beach. I had taken a walk in the morning and came home with some nice shells that the storm had washed up, so we ventured down the road to see what else we could find.
We found some nice shells, but we also found some critters that didn’t make it. We came upon two sunfish that had been washed up, a couple of jellyfish, a pelican and most surprising, a Leatherback sea turtle. We thought her dead at first, her eyes already destroyed by the birds, but after looking her over a bit, we realized that she was in fact still alive.
She was just barely hanging on and we didn’t figure there was anything we could do for her, so we finished our walk back and then stopped into the Pea Island Visitor’s Center to tell them about the turtle. They were immediately concerned and calls were made to go check on her and see what, if anything, could be done. We went back to where she was on the beach and waited for the experts to arrive.
The aquarium crew arrived first, followed by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. After a very thorough examination, it was determined that the best thing for the turtle was to put her to sleep, she was just too far gone to save. They drew blood for testing, measured her, took pictures and documented the entire process.
Before the aquarium crew arrived, they had been a little way down the beach picking up a dolphin. The common dolphin had washed ashore and had to be put to sleep also. Common dolphins are deep water dolphins, so they will be performing a necropsy to see if they can’t find out what brought the dolphin close enough to be washed ashore.
Once the Leatherback turtle was euthanized, everyone had to work together in order to get her loaded into the back of the truck. They estimated that this turtle, who was about six feet long, weighed somewhere between 600-700 pounds.
Being in the presence of so many experts, we learned a lot about these amazing turtles. Leatherbacks are the largest turtles on earth and they are on the endangered list. Their shells are flexible and almost rubbery because they are deep divers, diving deeper than any other turtles. Jellyfish are their favorite food, but unfortunately they often mistake floating plastic as their favorite snack. This often turns deadly for the turtles. They are not often found near shores, so a necropsy will be performed on her to see if they can determine what caused her to be there.
I just wish things had turned out better for this beautiful giant. I am glad we stumbled upon her when we did, though, and that we were able to watch as she was taken care of. This was a once in a lifetime learning experience, and it won’t be forgotten anytime soon…
Update: The necropsy was performed on the leatherback today, February 1. They found a blockage formed by a wad of plastic bags.