Rare Leatherback turtle sighting near Portland

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Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has received a report of a rare leatherback turtle sighting near the Shambles Bank off Portland on Sunday 25th August by local resident’s Mike Lewis and Keith Moore.

The last confirmed sighting of a leatherback turtle in Dorset was in 2015.  It is thought that it could have come into shallower waters in pursuit of their prey – jellyfish, which have been present in large numbers around the Dorset coast all summer.

Mike said, “We were on a fishing boat heading out to the Shambles Bank off Portland at about 8.30am when we both saw it in the water. Our first thought was that it was a basking shark but as we got closer, we soon realized it was a turtle – about 1.5 – 2 metres in length, and it appeared to be feeding on a large barrel jellyfish just below the surface.  We made sure it wasn’t in distress or tangled up and watched it until it disappeared. We’ve fished around Portland for over 30 years and seen porpoises, dolphins and seals, so this was a red-letter day for us!”

Coastal Marine Centres Assistant, Sarah Hodgson said, “We were really excited to hear about this sighting of a leatherback turtle.  These are incredibly rare visitors to the Dorset Coast.  With so many barrel jellyfish about this year, the turtle’s favourite food, there’s always a possibility that these magnificent marine giants might turn up, and Mike and Keith were very lucky to witness this.”

Leatherback turtles are ocean wanderers and visit UK waters in the summer to feast on jellyfish. There are seven global species of turtle and this is the biggest species, and the most frequently recorded in the UK. They can weigh up to 1500 pounds and are the largest sea turtle species found in the ocean.  Globally, they are listed as being vulnerable to extinction with many populations critically endangered and at risk of extinction.  Marine conservationists are particularly concerned about turtles eating plastic found in the ocean, mistaking it for food.

Marine turtles are protected by law, so care should be taken if you see one. They are slow swimmers, so give them plenty of space and keep your speed down. The UK Turtle Code gives more advice: www.strandings.com/Graphics%20active/turtlecode.pdf

Dorset Wildlife Trust is always interested to hear about marine wildlife sightings.  Contact us on Twitter @DWTMarine, facebook/dorsetwildlife, Instagram/dorsetwildlife or email kimmeridge@dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk.

To see the full video, visit www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/turtle-sighting

Find out more about keeping our beaches plastic free and take part in a 2 minute beach clean: www.litterfreecoastandsea.co.uk/2minutebeachclean/