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Sizing up sea turtle: data gathered from dead leatherback washed up in Argyle Shore, P.E.I.

Dr. Laura Bourque, left, and Dr. Megan Jones, wildlife pathologists with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperatives's Atlantic node located at AVC take measurements of a dead leatherback turtle assisted by wildlife technician Darlene Weeks, far right. Recording the data is third-year vet student Natalie Tocco.
Dr. Laura Bourque, left, and Dr. Megan Jones, wildlife pathologists with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperatives's Atlantic node located at AVC take measurements of a dead leatherback turtle assisted by wildlife technician Darlene Weeks, far right. Recording the data is third-year vet student Natalie Tocco. - Contributed

Wildlife pathologist Megan Jones says the massive leatherback sea turtle that washed ashore on a beach in Argyle Shore last Friday is proving to be a valuable specimen.

Jones says since the animal was well preserved, it is providing a “unique opportunity’’ to look closely at its anatomy.

“These guys are an endangered species in Canada,’’ says Jones, regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative with the Atlantic Canada region at the AVC in Charlottetown.

“So, we really want to learn everything we can.’’

Roughly a dozen veterinarian students were able to observe part of the four-hour necropsy performed Monday and look inside the turtle.

The necropsy was done to determine the cause of death but also to gather useful information on the leatherback.

Jones says no definitive cause of death has been determined yet, but further tests will take place in the coming weeks including analysis of different tissues to look for possible disease.

“It’s a multi-step process,’’ she says.

“Sometimes we don’t find a definitive cause of death.’’

The turtle’s body was in good condition with no evidence of emaciation. Jones notes there is no evidence of trauma, meaning the turtle likely was not struck by a boat or entangled in a net.

Jones says the animal was likely dead for at least one week.

Numerous measurements were taken to provide important data to the Canadian Sea Turtle Network and to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The deceased turtle is female, measuring two meters long and with a shell length of 1.5 metres. It weighed 462 kilograms and is estimated to be about 20 years old.

Jones lauded the work of province’s Forests, Fish and Wildlife division in getting the sea turtle to the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative.

The large animal was floated along the beach to an area where a crane was able to haul it up a steep embankment and place it on a trailer. The process took two to three hours.

“They went beyond to get this turtle to us,’’ says Jones.

jim.day@theguardian.pe.ca

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