Some creatures earn the title of ‘monster’ because they kill. Others get it because they look like they could kill. Then there are those who are called monsters simply because of their size. That’s the kind of monster that didn’t eat Barcelona or any of its citizens but just scared them because it was the biggest turtle they’d ever seen. A monster turtle? Will this make a good horror movie? Was there a monster rabbit nearby?
Let’s answer the question on everyone’s minds first: was this really a monster turtle or was it a monster tortoise? (For the record, while they’re all members of the Chelonia family, ‘turtle’ commonly refers the sea creature, ‘tortoise’ to the land version and ‘terrapin’ to the ones eaten by Native Americans or cheering for the University of Maryland sports teams. However, these usages are not common worldwide and can provoke bar arguments). The people who found the giant creature on a beach in Calella in northeast Spain didn’t care because the Spanish word ‘tortuga’ covers all of them.
La Vanguardia reported that the huge turtle was found on this Mediterranean beach near Barcelona on September 19th. Measurements were taken before it was removed with a backhoe and taken to the Veterinary Faculty of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona for a necropsy. The creature was 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length and weighed in at around 700 kg (1543 pounds). That’s a LOT of turtle and the size plus the photographs allowed biologists to quickly determine this was a leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and possibly a world-record specimen of an amazing species that is found in oceans around the world, including the Atlantic coast of Spain as they swim by to feed in the cold waters of the North Sea, but rarely in the Mediterranean, where biologists say this is one of only ten leatherbacks seen in that body of water in the past 2,000 years.
Is this a bad sign — like the sudden appearance of dead oarfish? That’s a good question, especially since this is the second leatherback found dead on the Spanish coast in a month – a 300 kg turtle was found earlier in nearby Vilanova i la Geltrú. In an interview with La Vanguardia, Pere Alzina, a biologist and turtle specialist, said he hopes this means leatherbacks are nesting in the Mediterranean. However, he fears the necropsy will show that the leatherback died from eating plastics that it confused with jellyfish.
While not a Gamera (the monster turtle star of Japanese horror movies) or a Beast of Busco (the legendary giant snapping turtle of Churubusco, Indiana), this leatherback may have been a record – the largest confirmed turtle weighed 650 kg (1433 pounds). The Seri people of Sonora, Mexico, consider the leatherback sea turtle to be one of their five main creators and honor them with festivals. The rest of us humans are the leatherback’s biggest natural enemy – eating their eggs, killing them as fishing bycatch or with the plastics they consume while ridding the oceans of harmful jellyfish.
Was the appearance of this giant leatherback turtle in Calella bad sign?