CC BY, Alastair Rae

Location: Arran
the natural world

A turtle tale

I am a giant of the sea
I can dive as deep as 1 kilometre
I can swim for thousands of miles
My ancestors were here before man walked the earth
I eat jellyfish
I can live for up to 100 years
I am rarely seen in Scottish seas
Who am I?
They call me the Leatherback Turtle

"It was my first holiday on Arran. One day my dad took me to the beach at Sannox. I was playing on the sands looking out to sea and became dimly aware of something large splashing in the water. Then dad started shouting 'Look, Look, It’s a Turtle, It’s a Turtle!' I was a child. I’m not sure I really knew then what a turtle was, but from my dad’s reaction I knew that it was clearly something significant.

"As soon as we returned to the boarding house in Corrie dad told my mum of the sighting. She didn’t believe him. At tea time in the little dining room, dad regaled the other guests with his exciting story, while Mum urged him to hush and kicked him (gently) under the table.

"Next day we heard a report on the Scottish evening news that a turtle had been caught in the nets of a fishing boat at Kilbrannan Sound. Mother had to concede that dad had been right. She laughed. We were all thrilled, the whole family- little brother as well.

"Further news of the turtle revealed that it was still alive when caught but injured. I believe it was a fair age. Attempts were made to revive it at the zoo. I hoped it would get better but it was not to be.

"Some years went by, then one day, on a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, I made a great find. There in the natural history section, the preserved body of a turtle hung on the wall, with a plaque saying 'Leatherback Turtle from Kilbrannan Sound'. It was the one! The galleries and museum hold many famous paintings and exhibits, but for me, the greatest treasure in the collection is that ancient creature that I first encountered as a child while on holiday in Arran. I had witnessed a brief moment in the life of a truly amazing animal."

Footnote: According to a 1996 report by Scottish Natural Heritage turtles are harmed by marine pollution, notable marine debris and floating oil. Unlike other turtles, the leatherback turtle does not have a hard shell. It’s shell is flexible, covered by leathery skin which allows it to dive deeper than other species.

As told by Mary Adams, resident of Arran

More information on visiting the area can be found here.