Storm-tossed and seriously injured rare turtle makes remarkable recovery

Female loggerhead due to be returned to warmer breeding grounds

Yvonne Miles and Matthew Hawkins preparing  Leon the loggerhead turtle for tagging in Galway, prior to her return to the ocean

Yvonne Miles and Matthew Hawkins preparing Leon the loggerhead turtle for tagging in Galway, prior to her return to the ocean

 

This week’s budget is academic to one temporary Irish resident preparing to move lock, stock and turtleshell overseas in a few days. A loggerhead turtle, about 15 years old, which was comatose with multiple injuries when washed up by winter storms on to the Co Clare coast almost a year ago, is due to be flown to warmer waters after extensive rehabilitation.

Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species, one of only seven types of turtle still surviving. They are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean, with the greatest Atlantic concentration between Florida in the US, the Gulf of Mexico and the Cape Verde islands.

Staff at Galway’s Atlantaquaria in Salthill have nurtured the female turtle since she was found seriously injured at Seafield strand near Quilty, Co Clare, last November by a local resident, Lorna King.

“I was walking the strand after a really bad storm, which had washed seaweed high up on the strand, when I found her,” Ms King said. “She was barely moving and her eyes were almost closed and so I carried her to the car and drove her to a rock pool to try and revive her.”

Over four hours, she made a number of phone calls for assistance, while trying to care for the turtle. Eventually a vet in Ennistymon, Co Clare, referred her to Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Damage to shell

Galway

With a diet of herring, squid and other seafood, the turtle was slowly rehydrated and has made a full recovery. She was named Leon, after a ship wrecked off the Clare coast – and also because it was initially believed she was a male.

Galway Atlantaquaria worked with Galway county veterinary officer Rita Gately to ensure Leon was microchipped and equipped with satellite-positioning tags earlier this month, so her movements can be tracked.

Leon will be flown to the Canaries, where she will be released back into the wild and perhaps start a family. Female loggerhead turtles begin reproducing at about 17 years of age.

Loggerhead sea turtles breed in the Gulf of Mexico, and they then swim across the Atlantic as far as the north African coast and pass the Azores, returning to mature in their original habitat.

Some lose their way in storms and are washed up on this coastline, and there have been occasional sightings as far north as Denmark.

Dublin Zoo has assisted with Leon’s travel arrangements to La Tolua centre, Las Palmas, where she will be introduced to clement Gran Canarian waters.