Leatherback Turtle, September 1988

The specimen is now kept at the National Museum of Wales.

Back in September 1988, whilst I was working as a warden at Morfa Harlech National; Nature Reserve, I received a phone call about a “monster on the beach”. It was from a local farmer; he described his monster as being bigger than a cow and the shape of a VW beetle car. I made my way to the beach and discovered a freshly dead leatherback turtle, it was enormous. I found out later that local fisherman had seen it alive earlier that day in the sea.

I phoned Cardiff Museum, who initially told me to bury it in the dunes, and they would come and get it! Eventually, I got through to Peter Morgan, who was head of Zoology, who immediately decided he wanted the turtle.

I had access to four-wheel drives at the time, so we managed to put it in a trailer, and I drove it to Cardiff. However, when we pulled up outside of the museum, we all realised there was no way we could lift it! We ended up hiring a crane and moving it down to a coal store that the museum had near the docks. When we used the crane, all of the alarms started going off, the thing was that heavy! When they took measurements, it turned out it was, and still is, the largest turtle ever recorded anywhere.

The specimen was considered to be so internationally important that an American team flew over from the states to do an autopsy!

It’s now a major exhibition at the museum – where it does look smaller, since it’s shrunk since drying out – and, as far as I’m aware, is still in the Guinness Book of Records!

Editor’s note – According to the Guinness World Records Book, the specimen was male, and “measured 2.91m in total length over the carapace, 2.77m across the front flippers, and weighed 961.1kg”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *