Northern Ireland

Loggerhead turtle 'critically ill' after Donegal stranding

The loggerhead turtle is being cared for at Exploris in County Down Image copyright Daniel Johnstone
Image caption The young turtle has been named 'Julius Caesar' by the family who found it stranded in Donegal

A "critically ill" loggerhead turtle which was found stranded on a County Donegal beach has been taken to a sea-life sanctuary in Northern Ireland.

The rare discovery was reported by a family in Rosbeg on Sunday afternoon.

Wildlife experts from Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, County Down, travelled to Donegal the next morning to collect the turtle in a bid to save its life.

Exploris said the turtle may have been caught in the gulf stream and been carried hundreds of miles off course.

'Julius Caesar'

It is now being treated for "cold-stunning" and receiving around the clock care at the Portaferry sanctuary.

"Juvenile loggerhead turtles should be in the middle of the Atlantic in warm waters where there is plenty of food, not returning to shores until they are approximately seven to 12 years old," an Exploris statement said.

The turtle has been named "Julius Caesar" by the Donegal family who took it into their home.

Daniel Johnstone told BBC News NI the name was chosen by his nine-year-old daughter Síomha, "because she thought the turtle was a fighter".

Image copyright Daniel Johnstone
Image caption Nine-year-old Síomha helped to bath the stricken turtle in seawater

He explained that the turtle was initially found by his neighbours in Rosbeg, and they lifted it off the beach as they feared it was about to be attacked by seagulls.

The couple brought it to Mr Johnstone's house because he has previous experience of seal rescues.

The Johnstone family placed the turtle in a container with seawater and called a number of wildlife experts including Exploris, who arranged to collect the creature the following morning.

Accidental tourist

The aquarium's curator, Peter Williams, told BBC News NI that Exploris staff are now trying to raise the turtle's body temperature and encourage it to feed.

The turtle's temperature was 11C when it arrived in Exploris, but staff have managed to raise it to 17C.

Mr Williams explained that they do not expect their patient to start feeding until its temperature rises another couple of degrees.

He added that because staff do not yet know if the turtle is male or female, for now they are just calling it "JC".

Image copyright Daniel Johnstone
Image caption The turtle is too cold to feed at the moment

Loggerhead turtles can live to about 50 years of age in the wild and adult males usually reach about three feet (90cm) in shell length.

Donegal's accidental tourist is believed to be about a year and a half old and has been classed as "vulnerable".

Mr Williams said the ultimate goal is to release the reptile back into the wild in warmer waters.

Hypothermia

He praised the Johnstone family who found the stranded turtle saying they had "done the right thing" by alerting the authorities.

The curator asked the public to "keep their eyes peeled for any more loggerheads which may be in our seas" and report any sightings to Exploris.

Image caption Loggerhead turtles are usually found in much warmer waters (archive photo)

Such strandings are rare according to the aquarium, but it is not the first time Exploris has tried to nurse a lost loggerhead turtle back to health.

In January 2015, another loggerhead washed up on a County Donegal beach and it was also taken to the Portaferry aquarium suffering from hypothermia.

Exploris staff named that male turtle Columba, but sadly it died a short time later.

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