Here’s something you certainly wouldn’t expect to see while walking along a beach in the UK: a colossal zombified sea turtle.
Richard Pears and James Mustoe, along with James’s children Barnaby and Reuben, were returning from a wildlife watching trip off the coast of Polkerris in Cornwall when they noticed something lurking in the waters ahead.
“We saw this thing floating in the water from a way off and didn't have a clue what it could be,” Mustoe told IFLScience.
After getting a little closer to the mystery object, they realized that it was actually the body of a decomposing leatherback turtle.
“I was stunned – it was shocking," Mustoe said.
“When we realized what it was, it was very sad but also seeing something that rare and that size just bobbing in the sea like that must be a once in a lifetime encounter. I told my children it would be something they could tell their grandchildren about in years to come.”
The turtle was described as "the size of a small boat". This vast size indicates that the turtle could have been up to 100 years old when it died.
Leatherbacks tend to hang out and nest on sandy beaches near tropical and subtropical oceans, however, they do have a far-reaching global range that spans across huge swathes of the Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, and Western Pacific Oceans. Nevertheless, spotting a specimen like this on the south coast of the UK is almost unheard of.
“Leatherbacks are within UK waters, they just get on with life out at sea,” Three Bays Wildlife Group, a local wildlife group involved with the scientific examination of the beast, told IFLScience.
“They do stretch up the east side of the Atlantic past [the] UK. Indeed, another dead one washed up at Marazion 12 days ago, one was cut free from pot ropes in St Austell bay a couple of weeks ago, and a friend was out sailing and saw one swimming off.”
Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List. The global population is made up of seven subpopulations dotted across the world. Although some subpopulations are actually on the rise thanks to conservation programs, the general population is declining. Their many threats include pollution, coastal development, being accidentally caught by fisherman, and climate change.