Warm water turtle washes ashore at Ballyhealy
A TURTLE more used to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico was found washed ashore on a Wexford beach, a victim of the recent storms.
While the animal was just about alive when it was found, it died despite the best efforts of conservationists to save it.
Wexford naturalist Jim Hurley said he went to Ballyhealy Beach, Kilmore, after receiving a text from fellow naturalist Roy Watson, from Tullabards, Bridgetown, informing me that there was a turtle on the strand there.
'I went to see it and found it to be an 80cm-long, sub-adult, female Loggerhead Turtle. It moved slightly when I turned it over to examine it. Though it was just about alive, it was not surprising that it was semi-comatose with the cold seeing that it is a warm-water species.
'It was blowing a gale at the time and spring tides were due so I carried the near-dead turtle up the beach out of reach of the sea and left her in a sheltered spot out of the wind in the lee of the sand dunes.'
Jim said he phoned both turtle expert Dr Tom Doyle, lecturer in zoology at NUI Galway and Tony Murray, Conservation Ranger for south Wexford with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
'Tom Doyle, who was in Cork at the time, arranged for Dr Kevin Flannery, marine biologist at the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium to take the turtle into care and he started driving east to collect the animal. Tony Murray carried the by now unconscious endangered species to his motor and drove to New Ross to meet Tom,' said Jim. The incident happened on the Sunday before Christmas.
He said the turtle that should have been in the Gulf of Mexico, the Canary Islands or the Mediterranean Sea, finally made it to warm water in the aquarium in Kerry where she received immediate veterinary care.
'Her temperature was brought up but unfortunately she died overnight probably due to the combination of cold-stunning, dehydration, starvation and exhaustion. And to add to her difficulties, the lower two-thirds of her front right flipper were missing.'
Jim said that when he saw the turtle at Ringbaun Burrow there were floats of oceanic jellyfish called By-the-Wind sailors on the beach together with flotsam with thick growths of oceanic Goose Barnacles both evidencing that the persistent south-westerlies before Christmas carried these unusual visitors to our shores from far out in the Atlantic Ocean.
Tom Doyle said that got reports of two other Loggerhead Turtles stranded in the run-up to Christmas; both were on the coast of Co Cork. Unfortunately, both died. The remains of all three sea turtles are now in cold storage awaiting post mortem investigations in the zoology department at Galway university. Tom also had unconfirmed reports of turtles in Courtown and Waterford.
'It appears self-evident that with ongoing global warming, rising sea temperatures and more frequent and persistent gales and storms predicted that people will, in the future, be more likely to find warm water sea turtles on Irish beaches. Anyone who finds a turtle that may still be alive is urged to report it immediately as it is crucial to get the animal into heat and veterinary care as soon as possible,' said Jim.