British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2005-08-01 15:34:33

Medics called out to net entangled turtle, Cornwall

At about 10:00am, a call was received regarding a large turtle caught in nets off Botallack, near Land’s End, reported by a helicopter crew undertaking a survey from RNAS Culdrose. Coordinators Dave Jarvis and Tim Bain with Medics Lesley Jarvis gathered together some equipment whilst Sue White at Head Office called out Medics Rory Goodall and Barry Andrew, with Phil Hazell from Gulf Stream Scuba, to find the turtle. I was also called as I was already out searching unsuccessfully for a net entangled seal pup at Logan’s Rock, near Porthcurno on the other side of Land’s End with Medic and veterinarian Richard Hillam aboard the RIB belonging to Penzance BSAC Club. Landing at Lamorna, I left the divers with instructions on what to do if they did happen across the seal while out during the afternoon, and then called Dave to get details of the turtle stranding.

Just before our arrival, Rory called to say that he had found the turtle, and that, unfortunately, it appeared to have been dead for a while, due to its carapace beginning to bleach white. With the help of Lindsay from the National Trust, we located the turtle floating at the surface next to a buoy near Wheal Edward Zawn. Barry and Phil had also found the turtle and managed to find a way down the cliffs at the far side of the cove, and proceeded to swim out to it to give it a more thorough check. Medic Martin Gaunt from Oscha Productions (who created the ‘Marine Team’ video) also arrived at this point with Jess. Barry and Phil found that apart from a strong smell, most of the head was missing, and there was some damage to the flippers. It was also obvious that carrying the turtle up the cliff would be an impossible task. The incident now passed over to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Strandings Network. Barry and Phil returned to shore and left the site, while Strandings Network Coordinator Jan Loveridge organised a boat to bring the turtle in to a more accessible place. While waiting for the RNLI inshore lifeboat from Sennen to arrive, which was already out on an exercise in the area and kindly offered their assistance, we were treated to some spectacular views of a small basking shark feeding at the surface in the cove below us that was then joined by a 'bottling' seal. At about 3pm the ILB duly arrived and the crew disentangled the body, whilst the curious basking shark passed close by, and they then proceeded to tow it back to Cape Cornwall.

About half an hour later, Dave, Lesley, Tim and myself waded out on to the slipway at Cape Cornwall to meet the ILB crew bringing the turtle carcass in. A huge crowd gathered around, which required some control. Two of the ILB crew helped us haul it further up the slipway on a tarpaulin that we positioned underneath it. Fortunately, crowd control became less of a problem when the smell started to spread, partly due to the extremely hot atmosphere in the protected cove. We thanked the ILB crew, who then headed home. Examining the carcass, the right foreflipper was missing along with most of the head. Decomposition and scavenger damager was also present on the remains of the head and missing limb, and also on the rear right flipper and tail. The leatherback turtle measured 1.65m from head to the tip of the shell, and was extremely heavy. We measured and recorded the animal & liaised with Jan to arrange for transport to take the body for a Post Mortem. The local fishermen and Cape Cornwall Slipway Association assisted us by allowing the use of their boat winch to pull the carcass close to the top of the steep slipway (a 45° angle in places!).

By 7pm, volunteers Mick Dawton, Dr. Nick Tregenza, Jayne Herbert, Caroline Curtis, Cathy Frost and Roger Driver had arrived with a trailer and land rover to put the carcass in and tow up to the top of the hill to the car park. Using the winch again, we moved the turtle across the slipway so that it was positioned in line with the trailer. Then, using ropes tied around the securing line already put in place by the ILB crew, we all managed to pull the turtle bit by bit up a makeshift ramp and finally into the trailer. The trailer was then towed up the path, and hitched back on to Caroline's car for it to be taken to VLA Polwhele in Truro the next day for delivery of the carcass. The incident was closed at 9pm, whereupon Tim, Dave, Lesley and myself rehydrated ourselves in a local pub!

We would like to thank all the volunteers from BDMLR and CWT who attended this incident, Terry George and the Sennen RNLI ILB crew, Gulf Stream Scuba, Lindsay at the National Trust, Strandings Network Coordinators Jan & Jeff Loveridge, Sue White and Director Alan Knight at BDMLR Head Office, the fishermen and Cape Cornwall Slipway Association at Cape Cornwall, Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, Paul Riley of Head and Head Veterinary Surgeons, Brendan Godley at Combined Universities in Cornwall and finally the residents and tourists at Cape Cornwall for their assistance, understanding and interest throughout. This is a great demonstration of the integrated multi-agency network that has been built up in Cornwall over the last couple of years, and proven to work extremely well in this type of situation.

Medic Dan Jarvis
BDMLR West Cornwall
(Newquay - Land's End - St Austell)

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