One of the world’s rarest sea turtles became “disorientated and confused” in stormy weather and was washed up in Sussex – the latest casualty of winter storms.
Marine biologists yesterday said they have seen scores of unusual creatures washed up along the county’s shoreline but the Kemps Ridley Marine Turtle – a critically-endangered animal that is native to the Gulf of Mexico – was the rarest yet.
It is feared the turtle – believed to be one of only about 400 left – was knocked off-course and ended up in Saltdean, more than 4,000 miles from its natural habitat.
Other animals which have become victims of the storms include three dolphins feared to be from the same pod – two spotted on Sunday in East Wittering and Rustington, near Littlehampton, another yesterday in Climping – lobsters, goose barnacles, long-spined sea scorpions and whelk eggs.
Mermaids purses – sharks’ egg pouches – and even a lumpsucker fish have been found in Hove. Lobsters were washed ashore in Littlehampton and starfish and a puffin in Hove.
Birds have also been thrown off course - in Littlehampton a rare gull was sighted, which is usually found in Canada.
Sussex-based marine biologist Steve Savage has just identified the rare turtle, which was spotted by Matt Coyne in Saltdean last Monday.
He said: "We have had some interesting remains washed up in recent weeks but this is by far the most unusual.
"A loggerhead turtle was washed up at Worthing in December last year.
"Occasionally sick but alive specimens of the loggerhead turtle and green turtle have been washed up in the south west and west UK on rare occasions.
"The only species that naturally occurs around the UK and is occasionally seen alive off Sussex is the leatherback turtle as they are adapted to the cooler waters. They visit UK waters to feed on jellyfish.
"An adult Kemps Ridley has an almost completely round carapace (shell) measuring about 70cm long and weigh approximately 40kg.
"Kemps Ridley turtles are mostly found in the Gulf of Mexico area. This species is considered to be critically endangered.
"It is likely that the recent stormy seas caused the turtle to reach our shores and wash up on the beach.”
Barry Killner, from the Environment Agency, spotted a short-beaked common.
Around the same time Dr Joe Vitagliano, principal of Midhurst Rother College, saw a dead one in East Wittering.
He said on Twitter: “Great that these creatures swim close to our coast, sad to find this on East Wittering beach today.”
Earlier this month a dead dolphin was found washed up in Brighton. The animal was found on the concrete opposite the Kings Road arches, between The Fortune of War and Coalition bars.
It was already dead and in a badly damaged condition when found, having been washed almost to the sea wall.
Sophie Green, who found the dolphin while walking her dog Tilly, said: “Tilly found it, but gave it a sniff and ran away while I went to investigate further.
“It was visible from the pavement, you could see how high the water had come up overnight and I was surprised at how far up the beach it had come.”
A metal fence had been laid across the dolphin to protect the carcass from scavengers such as seagulls.