Kemp’s ridley turtle, Lepidochelys kempii, is Critically Endangered and breeds on only a few beaches in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly on Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Until recently this species was not in the National Museum Scotland’s collections, even though there have been a few strandings in Scotland in recent years.
Turtles often come across the North Atlantic on the North Atlantic Drift current from the Caribbean. The good summer last year meant the water was warmer than average, but when the winter came these small turtles could not survive. This is in contrast to the massive leatherback turtles, which retain their own body heat to some extent and come every year to the Scottish coast.
On 24 December 2014 a turtle was reported at Tarbet beach, four miles north of Scourie, Sutherland, which was identified as this very rare species. It was recovered by Donald Mitchell of the Visitor Information Centre, in Durness, who kindly sent it to us. Another young Kemp’s ridley was stranded on 10 January 2015 at Traigh Crionaig, Ruaig, Isle of Tiree, which was transported to the mainland by Mackinnon Haulage and CalMac to Oban, where it was picked up by Dr David Hughes of the Scottish Association for Marine Science and subsequently collected by National Museums Scotland. Another one was found lurking in one of our freezers with no label and this turned out to be a Kemp’s ridley specimen that was stranded on Luing back in 2001. These specimens will all become an important part of our research collections.