Suprise visitor: Conservation officer ‘amazed’ to spot sea


A conservation officer in Hopedale got a big surprise recently when he spotted an unusual sight along Labrador’s north coast: a sea turtle. 

Ian Winters, a conservation officer with the Nunatsiavut government, was on patrol Friday with federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers when they spotted the sea turtle near Qanagittuk, about 35 kilometres south of Hopedale.

“We were all amazed to see it. We couldn’t believe it. We were in disbelief,” Winters said. 

He and the DFO officers saw the turtle from a distance but it ducked underwater. About five minutes later, it reappeared about 90 metres from the boat. 

A sea turtle swims in the ocean.
Winters says he and Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers quickly snapped some picture and marked the turtle’s co-ordinates, then left it alone. (Ian Winters/Facebook)

“We went up for a quick glance and took a few pictures and that was it. We left it alone. We didn’t want to disturb it too much,” Winters said. 

Winters said the turtle appeared to be in very good health and was swimming well. 

“I think that’s the first reported sighting of a leatherback turtle around the Hopedale area.”

A turtle swims in water with islands in the background.
Winters spotted the sea turtle near Qanagittuk, about 35 kilometres south of Hopedale. He says it looked healthy. (Ian Winters/Facebook)

Winters posted his pictures on Facebook, where they’ve been shared hundreds of times.

“I guess being such a rare animal that it’s going to cause or create a lot of buzz around here,” Winters said. 

Winters said people online believe it’s a leatherback sea turtle but he hasn’t confirmed that. The DFO workers marked the co-ordinates as well, he said. 

4th sea turtle sighting in recent years 

Sea turtles aren’t unheard of in Labrador but they are rare. One showed up in Nain in the 1970s, prompting the local fish plant to halt production so people could take pictures with it. There have also been sightings in St. Lewis in 2012, in Makkovik around 2013, and near Pinent’s Arm in 2016. 

Winters said time will tell if turtle visits are getting more frequent but the climate is changing. 

“Water is getting warmer,” Winters said. “We’ve got more and more different animals coming up our way, birds and sea mammals.”

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