Large numbers of leatherback turtles are expected to reach Scottish waters in the coming months following a surge in the marine reptiles’ food supply of jellyfish.
Huge blooms of moon jellyfish have been seen around the Scottish coastline with tens of thousands more already washed up on the country’s beaches.
Scientists are uncertain as to why this is occuring but some fear it is a sign of global warming as increasing temperatures produce more plankton for jellyfish to feed on.
The news has led to calls for people to record sightings of the leatherback turtles and comes just days after the first sighting off Shetland.
Although the huge reptiles, which can reach eight feet long, nest in Florida and Trinidad, they can withstand the cooler waters around Scotland.
Chris Rowe, marine biologist at Deep Sea World in South Queensferry, said the turtles would reach Scotland by following the Gulf Stream.
“I have already had reports that they have reached Wales. Most people associate these huge creatures as a tropical species and a lot of people go on holiday to see them. So for them to be wafting around Scotland is amazing.
“I have seen the most blooms of jellyfish in Scotland this year I have ever seen.
“It could be to do with the temperature, tide and current this year which could be a result of global warming, we just don’t know for sure yet.”
The leatherback is the largest living turtle and has a slightly flexible “rubbery” shell.
The core body temperature of adults in cold water has been shown to be several degrees centigrade above the surrounding water, which allows leatherbacks to prosper in ocean regions where other marine reptiles can not.
Gwyn Evans, a Forth Coastguard watch officer, said: “There have been an awful lot of jellyfish this year, Port Edgar is full of them.” Philip Wright, a volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “There are about 30,000 jellyfish along one [Wick] beach alone, they have produced a solid mass and it is impossible for people to enter the water.”
Peter Richardson, species policy officer for the Marine Conservation Society, last night urged people to report sightings of leatherback turtles to his organisation.