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Leatherback Turtle Survives Billfish Impalement

The sword was successfully removed from the sea turtle and sent to a lab for analysis.

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Canadian Sea Turtle Network co-founder and executive director Kathleen Martin was in Trinidad looking for sea turtles that were satellite tagged in Canada when she came across a wounded leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)that was impaled by the “sword” of a swordfish or marlin. The turtle was apparently in good health in spite of the 60 centimeter long protuberance that entered the top of the turtle’s leathery shell and came out through the bottom of the shell at a slight angle.


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Luckily for the turtle, Dr. Scott Eckert, scientific director for a Trinidadian sea turtle group was also on the same beach and had witnessed such an occurence once before and told Martin that they could remove the sword from the turtle. Eckert and Martin used a multi-function tool, probably similar to a Leatherman tool to remove the bony spear out of the turtle.


Martin told CBC Mainstreet that she was amazed at the condition of the turtle in spite of the impalement. The turtle’s body encased the sword in skin, almost like a band-aid that helped it heal. When the sword was removed, Martin was able to see what she described as a long cavity where the sword once was. The hole, she said, smelled terribly.

The sword, which is made of bony material, was sent to a lab for analysis. It measured 60 centimeters long and was several inches wide, and very sharp. The turtle had been swimming the oceans with it for a while because it was already encrusted in barnacles.

Leatherback turtles are the only sea turtle that lacks a hard shell. Their shells are made of a leathery skin, hence the name. Leatherbacks are the largest turtles, weighing more than 2,000 pounds and measuring more than seven feet in length. They migrate the longest of any sea turtle species, traveling up to 3,700 miles each way.

John B. Virata currently keeps a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5.