Nova Scotia

Leatherback turtle, not overturned boat, found washed up in Cape Breton

A 360-kilogram leatherback turtle carcass that washed up near shore in Islandview, Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia, is now on its way to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans lab in Charlottetown for analysis.

This is the 1st recorded sighting of a leatherback turtle in the Bras d'Or Lake

The turtle carcass had to be freed from thick ice before it could be hauled ashore in Cape Breton. (Sue MacLean/Facebook)

A creature that co-existed with the dinosaurs has washed up dead near shore in Islandview, Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia.

Ron MacLean spotted the rare, endangered leatherback turtle along the Bras d'Or Lake. The 360-kilogram carcass has been taken to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, P.E.I. for analysis.

"They'll check and see what they think happened, and we'll wait and see. [Turtles are] supposed to be in the Caribbean about now, see, laying eggs, not ... they don't ski."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans told MacLean that although there have been some anecdotal reports of sightings, this is the first recorded sighting of a leatherback turtle in the Bras d'Or.

A makeshift ramp was used to bring the carcass out of the water. (Sue MacLean/Facebook)

"On Thursday, I was out walking on the shore in front of my place and it looked like there was a small overturned boat on the shore, in the ice. And I went to look and it was a leatherback turtle," he told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

"When I touched it it was floating a bit, so it wasn't moving, so I knew it was dead, but it was in good condition. It didn't look like it was there that long, but that would be because, with the ice and the cold and such."

MacLean tried without success to reach DFO for a few days, finally sending an email on Sunday to the Canadian Sea Turtle Network.

That stirred some interest.

"I got a call from pretty well everybody on Monday morning," said MacLean.

When DFO officials saw MacLean's pictures of the turtle, "they wanted it," he said.

Hauling a 360-kilogram carcass out of the water was no easy task. (Sue MacLean/Facebook)

By Tuesday, the turtle was being removed from the ice with the help of some sturdy wooden ramps and heavy machinery.

"We got it under the turtle and we pulled it out onto the ice," MacLean said, "and then we dragged it over where we could get it up close to the shore and I pulled it onto a pallet, and with the tractor, I put some forks on it and we lifted it up and brought it up."

MacLean said the carcass measures about two metres from tip to tail and the shell, from side to side, is about a metre wide.

The 360-kilogram carcass is now on its way to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans lab in Charlottetown for analysis. (Sue MacLean/Facebook)

The leatherback turtle is listed as an endangered species in Canada. 

One of the world's largest reptiles, leatherback turtles can reach more than two metres in length and weigh more than 900 kilograms. They're known to swim up to 12,000 kilometres a year and dive to depths of up to 1.2 kilometres, according to DFO.

The turtles usually only ever come ashore to nest on warm tropical and subtropical beaches so it's a bit of a mystery as to why the turtle ended up so far north in winter and so close to land in Cape Breton's inland sea.

"The ice has been in quite a while and it wasn't here before, so I don't know if it washed up or it had gotten that far," said MacLean. 

"But you could tell on the shell — it was cracked in the centre — so the weight of the ice was on it when the water level come down." 

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton