HomeOutdoorsNewsEndangered Sea Turtle Washes Ashore Dead, Confusing Scientists

Endangered Sea Turtle Washes Ashore Dead, Confusing Scientists

by Caitlin Berard
Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle
(Photo by Rawlinson Photography via Getty Images)

An endangered leatherback sea turtle recently washed ashore dead, causing confusion among scientists, who remain unsure of its cause of death.

The sea creature was found at Whale Beach near Sydney, Australia, Sunday, sparking an immediate investigation. Staff from the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health transported the animal to Taronga Zoo, where they will perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

Due to the turtle’s advanced stage of decomposition, however, the examination will take longer than usual to complete. According to a spokesperson from the Australian Museum, the results could take weeks to finalize.

Sadly, this is far from the first such death to occur on the shores of Australia. Last year alone, six endangered leatherback sea turtles washed ashore dead along the Central Coast.

Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtle in the world, have roamed the world’s oceans for more than a hundred million years. Now, however, they’re facing extinction. Scientists estimate a mere 2,300 nesting females remain within the Pacific population, with worldwide populations declining rapidly.

Malaysia, for example, used to have a thriving leatherback population, with about 10,000 nests appearing along the coast in 1953 alone. Fast forward 50 years and they all but disappeared, with only 1-2 nests appearing annually.

Two days prior to the endangered sea turtle’s death, a leatherback was released from a shark net and microchipped. That said, officials do not believe they were the same turtle. “An initial scan has found no microchip,” the National Parks and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Why Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle Populations Are Declining So Rapidly

Scientists estimate that leatherback sea turtles live around 50 years in the wild, and reach sexual maturity between the ages of 9 and 20 years old. Throughout the mating season, each female sea turtle will lay between 4-8 clutches of eggs, with each clutch containing around 80 eggs – so, why are they endangered?

Well, first of all, of the 300-600 eggs, hundreds won’t hatch. Leatherback sea turtle nests typically contain dozens of misshapen, yolkless eggs. Those that do hatch face a wide variety of threats, even before birth.

First, humans often steal sea turtle eggs from their nests for their purported aphrodisiacal powers. The babies that do hatch then have to make their way down the beach and into the water without assistance or protection.

During this journey, many are picked off by hungry predators. Human development has made this process even more difficult, as artificial lighting makes it harder for baby turtles to find their way to the sea.

Should a leatherback sea turtle beat the odds and make it to the ocean, they face even more dangers. Plastic pollution, along with fishing gear and plastic entanglements, causes countless deaths among sea turtles. Then there are shark nets, which cause dozens of sea turtle deaths per year.

“A shark net is as useless as a volleyball net out in your front yard trying to stop a magpie from swooping in magpie season during spring,” Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast founder Cathy Gilmore told ABC News.