Sea-users are being urged to keep a look out following the report of a sighting of a loggerhead turtle off Portland Bill. The last sighting of this species in Dorset was in 1938.
Weymouth sailor, Jim Davies, said he was surprised to see the creature metres from his boat as he sailed around Portland Bill on Sunday 18 August at about 3pm. He reported his sighting to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS).
“At one point it surfaced to breathe about 10 metres off the boat, saw me and dived – there have been a lot of jellyfish around lately so I imagine it was feeding on them,” said Jim.
Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manger, said: “Dead or dying stray juvenile loggerheads are regularly recorded washing up on UK beaches during winter months, but this sighting of an apparently healthy, larger, live animal at sea is of real interest.”
Loggerheads are the second most encountered turtle species in the UK, with a total of 220 records in the UK & Eire turtle database up to the end of 2012, compared to 1,949 of the more frequently recorded leatherback turtle. Last year 4 loggerheads were reported from our beaches, all dead, whereas 45 leatherbacks were spotted and reported, most of them live.
The loggerhead turtle is the most temperate species of marine turtle, with populations frequenting north eastern coastal waters of the USA during the summer, and a population permanently inhabiting the Mediterranean. Studies suggest that loggerheads only feed in water temperatures above 15 cC but will stop feeding at lower temperatures, and shut down during persistent exposure to temperatures lower than 10 oC.
Dr Richardson says that with waters off the south west England at about 18oC and plenty of sunshine, the seas in the area are well within the tolerance of foraging loggerhead turtles.
Also surprising is that the last confirmed loggerhead report off the Dorset coast was in 1938. According to Marine Environmental Monitoring who manage the UK & Eire Turtle database, the 1938 loggerhead record resulted from a dead specimen being found between Charmouth and Lyme Regis by a Dr HW Parker, who identified it from the shape of its skull.
MCS says recording turtle sightings is really important to understand not only about these enigmatic marine creatures but also about jellyfish, the food they follow here.
Dr Richardson said, “The Portland Bill loggerhead may still be in the area, so we urge anyone using the sea there to keep a look out for any turtles and report any they see to MCS – and take a camera, it would be marvellous to get a picture of this exotic visitor.”
MCS says it’s a good idea for people to download the UK Turtle Code to help identify the turtles they see and then report any sightings in the same place: www.mcsuk.org/what_we_do/Wildlife+protection/Report+wildlife+sightings
There is a word of caution from Dr Peter Richardson if people do find stranded loggerheads: “They shouldn’t be returned to the water, but reported immediately so they can be collected for either post-mortem if they are dead, or rescue and rehabilitation if the turtle is alive.”