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.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

4 thoughts on “Beached”

  1. David:

    Great pics – that is something prehistoric rising from the deep.

    Once when I was a kid we found a dead – very large – sea turtle on a beach (where we were camping in total isolation) on the Pacific coast of Mexico (btw Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo).

    We buried the magnificent beast about 5 feet deep in the sand. The next morning when we got up it was 100% excavated by the hermit crabs. Over the next few days they stripped the carcass of flesh and I ended up taking the shell home with me. It ended up varnished, polished and hanging in my room.

    Don’t know what ever happened to it – most likely tossed out when my family moved back to the USA.



  2. David,

    Thanks for the pix. I had the pleasure of viewing one of these beautiful creatures at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach, VA this past Saturday.

    In fact, that particular Aquarium specializes in turtle rescue – having a visible lab where they hatch young and rare sea turtles of various types, raising them until they’re mature enough to release into the wild.

    Still your picture brings to mind the challenges these and other beasts of beauty, such as the Manatee, face due to our ever shrinking globe.


  3. I’m sorry for the old guy, but Sampson’s isn’t a bad place to wash up. (And thanks for making my day with your comment on my blog.)

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