07 August 2012

Unexpected encounter with a leatherback sea turtle

Today we made a rather extraordinary encounter: a leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea about 2-2.5m long was breathing at the surface, on a completely flat sea.

The sighting was extraordinary in three respects. First, leatherback sea turtles are classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and therefore make a rare encounter anywhere. Second, the Gulf of Corinth is a semi-enclosed basin separated from open Mediterranean waters by a narrow (2-km wide) and shallow strait, crossed by a bridge. Third, historically there is only one other report of a leatherback sea turtle in the Gulf of Corinth. It dates back to 1982 (that is 30 years ago) and it refers to an animal caught in a net and killed by a fishermen, as reported by sea turtle expert Dimitris Margaritoulis in his Journal of Ethology note of 1986.

Additionally, in my 25 years of experience as a dolphin biologist I never had a chance of encountering one of these magnificent animals.

This particular turtle let our small boat approach close enough to take a few photographs and videos. It was a breathtaking experience!

(Photo by G. Bearzi, August 2012)

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