Rare turtle as big as a “dining table”


It may have disappeared as quick as it appeared but local John Inwood says his encounter with a critically endangered Leatherback Turtle made his day.

While out on the water on December 28, John along with his wife and son saw an incredibly large and rare Leatherback turtle.

“We were just having a bit of a tiki tour around in my son’s Stabi Super Cab and we saw the leatherback turtle about 300 yards off the little island reef, down by Adele Island.”

John thought it was a seal at first so they stopped and had a look.

leatherback turtle 2“I couldn’t believe it, it’s the first turtle I’ve ever seen in the bay and it was about the size of a dining table.”

“We’re out in the boat quite a lot but I haven’t ever seen anything that compares to this, we’ve seen a few big sharks and chased tuna but normally we’re just snapper fishing and we don’t see anything too unusual.”

John says the turtle stayed on the surface for a moment, giving his son, Brian just enough time to snap the photo on his phone before it disappeared underwater.

“Brian would have gotten more than one photo if I hadn’t backed back so quickly and scared it away.”

John says the group suspected it was a Leatherback so Brian sent the photo to DOC Motueka, who confirmed the turtle was a critically endangered Leatherback.

DOC marine scientist Clinton Duffy says Leatherbacks are identified by their large size and leathery keeled carapace (shell). The largest reported Leatherback had a 256.5 cm carapace length and weighed 916 kg.

“The keels are ridges running the length of the carapace and are clearly visible in the photograph,” says Clinton. “Its likely this species is a regular, if rare visitor to the wider Cook Strait region.”

Leatherback turtles are particularly special as they are the largest and only warm-blooded turtle, spending most of their time diving in deep water.

A female Leatherback Turtle found in America.


Sightings of the species are dotted around New Zealand but because they are a deep ocean creature it is rare to see a Leatherback this close to shore.

After talking to John, Mark Cotton from Big Blue Dive & Fish posted the photograph on their Facebook page on Saturday and it’s been ticking over ever since.

“It’s pretty wild that there’s so much response on it,” says Mark. “I think there’s about 40,000 hits and 183 shares since I posted it on the 27th. But it’s pretty weird for Nelson to have such a big, rare turtle in the bay.”

While DOC Motueka says it is unlikely that the warmer water temperature was the reason for the turtle’s appearance, Mark says he’s seen and heard of all sorts of rare marine life sightings since the water reached 24 degrees.

“The first ever marlin was caught down the West Coast not long ago and we had a guy catch a hammerhead shark on the 2nd of February, whether that’s because it’s so warm or because of El Nino I don’t know.”