A family were left stunned after finding the world’s rarest sea turtle washed up alive on a Welsh beach – 5,200 miles away from its home in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ash James, 34, was taking his dog Teddy for a walk along Talacre beach in north Wales with his son when he made the incredible discovery on Sunday (28/11).
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was remarkably still alive – despite being thousands of miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, where they are usually found.
Also known as the Atlantic ridley sea turtle, it is the rarest and the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world.
Ash’s wife Samantha, 35, reported the find to the British Marine Life Rescue and specialists found it was in a state of cold-water shock – but when gently prodded it began to move.
The turtle – nicknamed Raphael by the couple’s nine year-old son Gethin after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character – was collected by Anglesey Sea Zoo.
Raphael will spend the next few months recuperating before being released back into its natural habitat in the ocean basin between North and South America.
It is believed the turtle got lost after it was pushed way off course by Atlantic storms during Storm Arwen which affected the jetstream.
They are usually found in tropical waters with a temperatures of 25-30oC and at this time of year the Welsh local sea temperatures are a chilly 8oC.
The wayward sea creature was found after the couple’s border collie started “making a fuss” over what Ash thought was a pile of seaweed.
Samantha, a wedding photographer, from Holywell, Flintshire, said: “Ash thought it was dead as it was motionless.
“He video called me and at first I thought he was joking. It wasn’t till he showed me that I believed him.
“We were both in shock as they are not supposed to be in these parts of the world.
“I went down there and luckily, I’ve seen before that you have to report these kind of things and I managed to get the number for the British Marine Life Rescue.
“I called and left a voice message, but I didn’t expect a response. They called me back ten minutes later.
“It was Teddy who found it, she wouldn’t leave it alone.
“She just kept barking and sniffing around the poor thing. We think she knew it was still alive.
“I’ve been told he was in cold shock, which makes sense as it is bitter down there.
“He will have to have rehab for two to three weeks before being flown back to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The specialists believe that it he was travelling through the Atlantic Ocean but was then blown off course by the recent storms.
“We double-checked the beach to see if we could find anymore but the beach is just too large.
“It was astonishing to find such an amazing creature on our local beach – we all have our fingers crossed that he survives.”
Anglesey Sea Zoo said the juvenile Kemps Ridley turtle, which is too young to determine its sexm was doing well after a critical 48 hours.
It is currently undergoing critical care and rehabilitation with hourly checks through the day and night, involving gradual rehydration and raising of its ambient temperature.
In 2008, the zoo cared for another rare turtle – an Olive Ridley turtle, nicknamed Menai – which was the first such type to be reported in UK waters since records began almost 200 years ago.
Experts have verified the latest find is a Kemps Ridley turtle. There are just two known breeding sites remaining for the species globally, both in the western Gulf of Mexico.
Frankie Hobro, director and owner of the zoo, said: “We are extremely excited that this magnificent little creature has washed up alive here in North Wales.
“It is particularly poignant that this has happened almost exactly five years after the arrival of ‘Menai’ who became so famous.
“It is fortunate that the turtle stranded on a beach where it was found quickly, otherwise it would certainly have died.
“Tropical turtles washed up on our shores may appear dead when they are in fact in a state of torpor, or physiological ‘shut down’ due to the unsuitably low temperatures.
“If this is the case they may be revived and can make a full recovery under the right conditions.
“Our staff are working hard to rehabilitate this turtle, as we did successfully with Menai, and we hope that it will survive and be able to be flown back and released in warmer waters once it is strong enough.
“However it is early days and a very critical time so we cannot be certain yet that it will pull through.
“The Anglesey Sea Zoo believes that the best place for large migratory marine animals, such as sea turtles, is in the wild, and we do not believe in having such species on long term display.
“Therefore this turtle is not on public display at the Sea Zoo, it will continue to be cared for behind the scenes in the specialised and controlled environment which it needs to be properly treated and rehabilitated.
“Should it survive, we would be delighted to see it eventually returned to the wild where it belongs”.
Kemp’s Ridleys are the smallest marine turtles in the world and among the rarest. They were close to extinction in the 1980s.
They have an almost completely round shell -measuring about 70cm (2ft 3in) long, and they weigh approximately 40kg (88lb)
They feed on a wide variety including crustaceans and seaweed and can live for up to 50 years. An estimated 7,000 to 9,000 remain in the wild.