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Loggerhead Leon on the mend

A LOGGERHEAD turtle, which is unsuited to cold water, was obviously uncomfortable in the sea around Quilty, where it was stranded last week.
On November 9, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation were alerted after the stranded turtle was discovered.

It was subsequently brought to the Galway Atlantaquarium, where it is being cared for. The turtle was given the name Leon after the famous shipwreck in Quilty.

Simon Berrow of the IWDG said things are looking up for the unfortunate turtle.  “It’s in the Galway Atlantaquarium and it’s quite active now. The local county council vet in Galway is providing some veterinary input and she’s very thorough. As of Monday, it’s in a bigger tank and it’s now in fully salt water. It had been in fresh water because it was dehydrated and they can absorb water through their skin. It has a bit of an infection on its shell and they’re trying to treat that at the moment.

“Turtles don’t feed until water temperature is about 20 degrees. It was comatose when it was found at Quilty because it was about 10 degrees. It would be lethargic at 15 degrees and wouldn’t feed until about 20. Like a hypothermia victim, you bring them up slowly and they don’t need to feed all the time because they’re reptiles.”

While the turtle has rallied, there is a long road to recovery, he said.
“It’s looking better and getting heavier. It’s a long haul, it’ll take months and months. The infections in the shell are a bit more serious than we thought when we first saw it; we thought the shell was just damaged. But they’re quite robust and it’s all heading in the right direction.”

Leon is thought to be about 15-years-old and half the size of a fully mature loggerhead turtle, which can have very long lifespans.

Speaking about the recovery of the turtle Simon said, “A woman called Lorna King found it at Quilty, near the Star of the Sea Church, while she was walking the dog. She phoned around and spoke to John Flynn in Kilrush. He phoned me and we went there. In 30 years of attending strandings, this is only the second hard-shelled turtle I’ve ever been involved with. Both were live and the other one we found was at Doughmore in Doonbeg. We took it to Lahinch Aquarium but, unfortunately, it died.”

He said it is unclear where the turtle might have come from. “I’m looking at a paper and it’s saying that most of them come from the Caribbean, but most of the turtles in the North Atlantic breed down in Cape Verde and the Mediterranean. It’d be nice to find out genetically which population it has come from.”

While he said loggerhead turtles generally drift around on the seas, it’s rare for them to wind up in places like Quilty.
“They go on the Gulf Stream and are basically pushed all the way around the Atlantic for 20 or 30 years, until they get to breeding age. Occasionally, they get spun off the North Atlantic Gulf Stream and brought along the western seaboard of Europe.”

This is actually the third reported turtle stranding on the West Coast in November 2013 with the others at Muirioch in County Kerry and at Magheroarty in Donegal.

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