Surprise as rare leatherback turtle spotted near Hebridean isle of Muck

A chance encounter with a giant leatherback turtle has surprised and delighted wildlife-watchers after the rare creature was spotted swimming in Scottish waters.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 10:36 am
Updated Thursday, 10th September 2020, 10:36 am

Leatherback turtles, which can grow up to 2.5m long, are not usually found in the UK.So researchers and conservation volunteers were thrilled to see the unexpected visitor while carrying out marine surveys around the Hebrides.The sighting occurred around 15 miles west of the island of Muck while the team, from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), was involved in acoustic monitoring work.The charity operates research expeditions aboard a specially equipped yacht, collecting crucial scientific data on the whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – found around the Hebrides.More than 20 of the world’s cetacean species can be seen in Scottish waters, with some dolphins, harbour porpoises, minke whales and killer whales relatively common.However, sightings of turtles are much rarer, with just one other encounter with a leatherback in more than 17 years.The turtle, which popped up just 100m away from the boat, startled the crew on board, none of whom had ever seen a turtle in the UK before.“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment for all of us on board,” said Becky Dudley, marine biodiversity officer with HWDT.“The turtle did not seem to be in much of a hurry to go anywhere and we floated alongside the animal as it swam over towards us, using its colossal front flippers to propel itself forward with ease.“It was enormous. We could see the whole animal under the water as it glided along, taking periodic breaths, before disappearing beneath the waves.“I have been sailing around the Hebrides, year-round, for over two years now.“This has to be one of the most magical and surprising encounters so far, and one I will never forget.”

The leatherback turtle can be found all over the world, undertaking huge migrations across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – breeding in tropical waters and feeding in temperate waters.

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The species faces increasing threats from marine litter such as plastic bags and balloons, which can be mistaken for the jellyfish they eat.

This giant leatherback turtle, an endangered species not usually found in Scottish waters, was spotted near the island of Muck in the Hebrides
This giant leatherback turtle, an endangered species not usually found in Scottish waters, was spotted near the island of Muck in the Hebrides

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The endangered leatherback turtle is an ocean wanderer, travelling thousands of miles across the globe

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Leatherbacks are the largest marine turtles, growing up to 2.5m long
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