While walking the outer beach on Cotuit’s Sampson Island on Sunday I came across the carcass of a leatherback sea turtle. It had come ashore at some point in the last week since my wife and I walked that same stretch of sand last weekend.
Leatherback’s are the largest sea turtles (fourth largest of all reptiles after crocodiles) and this one was huge — the shell was at least six feet long — and according to the literature they can weigh over 1,500 pounds. The carapace, or shell, had been split in half, either because of a propeller strike or just decomposition. My guess is it died in the water and drifted ashore where it came to rest above the high water line. It looked, from a distance, like a dinghy sitting bottom up on the sand.
Leatherbacks can tolerate cold water and range across most of the world’s oceans — so I doubt this one was stunned by the rapid drop in water temperatures over the last two weeks. Right now the water is about 54 degrees, two weeks ago it was in the low 60s. They are endangered, so it is a shame to see such a magnificent animal lying dead and beached. They are reported to live as long as 150 years. That would mean this dead specimen could have been born as long ago as the beginning of the Civil War.
I’ve seen turtles in the water off of Craigville Beach in August, but never have come across any on the beach before. The stranding network swings into action this time of year to help the Kemp’s Ridley turtles that get cold shocked and stunned.