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During a routine cetacean research survey, researchers and volunteers from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) were treated to an unusual encounter.
While crossing the Minch on Sunday 5th June, between Skye and Harris, a massive Leatherback turtle, measuring about 1.5 metres, was spotted to the delight of all onboard. As Silurian, HWDTs research vessel, approached, the Leatherback turtle slowly dived but resurfaced close by and allowed the observers onboard a good 10 minutes gawping before it swam sedately away.
Leatherbacks in British waters
The Leatherback turtle is the first spotted by HWDT since surveys began onboard Silurian in 2001. Leatherbacks undertake enormous migrations from tropical breeding grounds to temperate feeding waters. The turtles are typically seen in British waters during the summer months when the swarms of jellyfish they prey on are abundant. They are one of the largest reptiles on the planet with consequently few natural predators. However, Leatherbacks are listed as critically endangered due to entanglement in fishing gear and marine litter (a plastic bag looks a lot like a jellyfish!).