A BIG increase in the number of jellyfish in Scottish waters could be linked to the reported deaths of five rare leatherback turtles.
Experts suspect the endangered species have followed their prey close to Scottish shores and have become entangled in creel ropes.
A photograph of a dead leatherback recovered off the coast of East Lothian, shows a creel still attached to the creature.
Dr Andrew Brownlow from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme has carried out post mortems on two of the turtles, each measuring six foot long.
He said: “There Is the possibility there are more jellyfish that are for some reason closer to shore. If there are more jellyfish closer to shore, and anecdotally there are, that will bring turtles into feed.”
The most recent turtle was discovered tangled in lobster creel ropes in Dunbar, East Lothian, on Thursday by fisherman David Kittrick.
“I’d never seen one before in my life,” said the 63-year-old who has been a fisherman for 42 years. “We found it on Thursday morning. It was dark and I thought it was a seal at first.”
It took two vessels and a pulley system and the help of the Dunbar Lifeboat crew to winch the turtle back to shore.
Commenting on the post mortem carried out yesterday Dr Brownlow said: “There was bruising on the flippers and the body of the turtle consistent with having ropes wrapped around it.
“The lungs showed conclusive evidence that they had drowned.”
Earlier this month a fisherman in Lochinver in the north west of Scotland also discovered one of the endangered species in his fishing creels with post mortem results also showing it drowned after becoming entangled.
It was towed by the fisherman back to the port much to the amazement of locals who flocked to see one of the biggest turtles in the world.
The unprecedented spate of dead leatherback turtles in October included one found in Camasunary on the Isle of Skye and one discovered on the Isle of Coll. There was also a fifth, unconfirmed report of a dead leatherback in Scotland in May this year.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said they are aware of the situation and are being kept informed of findings from the Scottish Marine Animals Strandings Scheme.