Forgotten before our very eyes

A small loggerhead turtle on display in our Zoology Museum has recently been identified as a turtle captured in a salmon net at Pennan, Aberdeenshire 1 August 1861.

loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)

This exciting rediscovery of information associated with a specimen in our collections was prompted by a research query to the Museum for a soon-to-be-published book The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland.  In compiling notes for the book, authors Chris McInerny (University of Glasgow) and Pete Minting (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation) found several references for the turtle and write in their book:

“[The turtle] was ‘kept alive, and its captors are astonishing the natives, who are flocking from far and near to see the “rare fish”.’ This loggerhead was moved to Aberdeen, where ‘it was in a very lively condition, and weighed 25 lb [11.3 kg]’. It was described by Robert Dyce, Professor of Midwifery at the University of Aberdeen, as being ‘very lively and pugnacious’, who confirmed the identification and suggested that it was a juvenile, based on careful measurements of its shell and body”

The turtle was later deposited with Marischal College (now University of Aberdeen) collections for preservation.

On display in the Zoology Museum, University of Aberdeen

On display in the Zoology Museum, University of Aberdeen

The authors contacted us and wanted to know if we still had the turtle.  After a couple of days of digging into old museum files and examining several sea turtles in our collection, we were able to connect the detailed information and careful measurements of Robert Dyce with the correct specimen.  According to the authors our turtle is ‘the second record of a loggerhead sea turtle for Scotland and the UK.’  It may be one of the oldest specimens of its kind in Britain!

The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is one of the largest of the sea turtles reaching lengths up to 1.2m and averaging 90-180kg.  They are found throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Oceans and Mediterranean Sea where they feed in coastal bays and estuaries on shellfish and other invertebrates.  Loggerhead sea turtle sightings are very unusual in British waters, but can sometimes be seen in late summer – early autumn when sea temperatures are at their warmest and the turtles are migrating from feeding to breeding grounds.


The Pennan loggerhead sea turtle is temporarily off display waiting for a new mount.

The book The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland by Chris McInerny (University of Glasgow) and Pete Minting (Amphibians and Reptile Conservation) may be published autumn 2015.  Watch for news and updates on their Facebook page:


About uoamuseums

The University of Aberdeen's Museums include King’s Museum and the University's Zoology Museum. The museums can claim to be Scotland's oldest, with records of museums and collections as far back as the late 17th century. Thanks to their status as a Recognised Collection of national significance, the Zoology Museum’s displays are currently being improved, while King's Museum hosts changing exhibitions drawn from across the collections, particularly those formerly in Marischal Museum. Visitors are warmly welcomed to the museums, and there are no charges for admission. Marischal College now houses the Museums Collections Centre, caring for and conserving many of the collections.
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