‘Massive’ 800-pound sea turtle nests on Florida beach
An 800-pound leatherback sea turtle nested Thursday morning next to the Indialantic Boardwalk by Fifth Avenue, startling beachgoers with a rare daytime glimpse of the enormous reptilian species.
"It was a shock. You walked down from the boardwalk, and it was right there," said West Melbourne nature photographer Jimmy Golian.
"It was a turtle — but, I mean, it was just massive. I've seen a lot of green turtles, and I've seen loggerheads," Golian said.
"But, that one, I just couldn't believe the size of it," he said.
Indialantic police received a call reporting the huge turtle at 6:39 a.m., Sgt. Tim Weber said.
Three officers reported to the scene to make sure spectators and beachgoers didn't venture too close to the creature, Weber said.
Leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species. The world's largest turtles, they average 6 feet long and typically weigh 500 to 1,500 pounds, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports.
"True denizens of the deep, leatherbacks are capable of descending more than 3,000 feet and traveling more than 3,000 miles from their nesting beach," according to the FWC website.
"They can dive deeper, travel farther and tolerate colder waters than other sea turtle species. They eat soft-bodied animals such as jellyfish. Their throat cavity and scissor-like jaws are lined with stiff spines that help them swallow this soft, slippery prey," the website states.
Golian said the Indialantic leatherback did not return to the sea until about one hour after sunrise.
Kate Mansfield heads the University of Central Florida Marine Turtle Research Group, which monitors beach nesting from Patrick Air Force Base southward to Sebastian Inlet State Park.
A UCF researcher monitored Thursday's event and noted an identification tag on the reptile's left rear flipper. Turns out the turtle had been tagged in 2016 by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which is based in Juno Beach.
"It's not unusual for us to encounter morning nesters on the beach. We see greens and loggerheads, and the very occasional leatherback. But it's kind of a joy — especially with the leatherbacks — to see them," Mansfield said.
"We're right at that northern edge of where the leatherbacks are known to regularly nest. We typically see anywhere from 20 to 50 leatherback nests in the Brevard County Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge," she said.
"And maybe just a handful north of there — which is where this turtle was seen," she said.
The Indialantic leatherback was missing her right rear flipper, Mansfield said. The turtle's shell measured 43 inches: A UCF researcher stretched a tape measure over her curved carapace.
"Those leatherbacks, they take a while to lay their eggs. They're just so big that it takes awhile for them to kind of lumber up on the beach and find the right nesting spot, and then do their thing and eventually leave," she said.
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @RickNeale1.
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.