Researchers at Laurentian University in Sudbury say they are stumped in the case of more than 50 dead turtles found on Manitoulin Island.

The turtles were found by a Ministry of Natural Resources scientist earlier this year and, so far, the cause of death is unknown.

Jackie Litzgus

Jacqueline Litzgus is a herpetologist at Laurentian University. (Chris Berube/CBC)

A Laurentian herpetologist — a researcher who studies amphibians and reptiles — is working on the investigation.

“At least in Canada, as far as I know, nobody has ever seen such a large number of turtles killed without an obvious reason,” Jacqueline Litzgus said.

She said two full boxes of carcasses have been catalogued and the remains are in plastic bags. The only thing left of the turtles are their shells.

An ecology graduate student who visited the site said so many dead adult turtles is bad news for the species.

“If you imagine a baby turtle, its shell is still soft. Anything can eat it. It’s the chicken McNugget of the wild,” James Baxter-Gilbert said.

“Once one actually reaches an adult size, they need to live that long to put out so many babies every year.”

Turtle shell - Mantioulin Island

Researchers at Laurentian University are trying to figure out why 50 dead turtles were found on Manitoulin Island this past summer. (Chris Berube/CBC)

‘Hard to comprehend’

Litzgus said the mysterious cause of the turtles’ demise could be there are new predators or a rare type of disease.

Whatever the cause, Litzgus said she’s worried.

“When you find a couple of dead turtles, it’s really disturbing,” she explained. “But when you find this many dead ones, it becomes hard to comprehend.”

The shells will be studied at Laurentian over the coming months.

Researchers say they hope to have some answers before the end of the current turtle hibernation season.