Unique sea turtle may have frozen to death

19 April, 2022

In January, a dead sea turtle washed up off Smögen – and turned out to be a species not seen in Sweden since the 19th century. The female turtle has now been autopsied and vets have come up with two possible causes of death.

The dead sea turtle is what is known as a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and it is a species that has not been reported in Swedish waters since 1890.

Knowing more about the endangered and protected species is important and now the National Veterinary Institute (SVA) has carried out an initial autopsy of the female turtle and collected tissue samples, providing information on age, health status and cause of death.

sea turtle survey
The National Veterinary Institute has carried out research on the sea turtle. Here, veterinarians Gustav Averhed and Elina Thorsson and biologist Jasmine Stavenow. Photo: SVA

Shark attack?

The results show that the turtle found in Smögen was a young female in good nutritional condition,” says SVA in a press release. No visible pathological changes can explain why the female died, but several already healed lesions on the shell and intestine were visible. They may have been caused by a collision with a boat or propeller or by a shark attack.

“The old injuries show that she survived a serious injury. As for the cause of death, the findings of the autopsy are consistent with the turtle being by-caught (accidentally caught in fishing gear) and drowned,” says Elina Thorsson, veterinarian at SVA, in a commentary.

“Another possible cause of death is that the turtle froze to death, that she simply ended up in winter-cold water that the species can’t handle,” she continues.

More samples

They are now waiting for answers and analysis of the samples taken, in order to be able to say more about the possible cause of death.

Sea turtles live most of their lives in the sea. They are most common in warm and subtropical seas, but some species also live in temperate waters. In our latitudes it is very rare.

The loggerhead sea turtle is highly threatened.

Text: TT
Photo: Alessandro Trovati/AP/TT, SVA

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