By Colletta Smith
A leatherback turtle spotted in the waters off Portaferry has been found dead on the shore.
Tests are being carried out on the turtle to determine how it died
The turtle was removed from the beach by staff from the Exploris Aquarium, and is now due to be taken to University College Dublin for a post-mortem examination.
The turtle was first sighted on Friday 15 February by local fisherman Andy Elliot who caught more he bargained for when out paddling in his canoe, but left the turtle unharmed.
After sightings by divers and ferry travellers over the weekend, the turtle had not been spotted for a number of days.
Marine biologists from Exploris then received a call on Thursday from two brothers.
Jeremy and Simon Rogers had been diving and spotted the turtle washed up near Shore Road in Portaferry.
With help from Queen University's marine station the turtle weighing over 200 kilos was heaved onto a trailer and taken back to the Exploris aquarium.
Leatherback turtles come to our waters during the summer months to feed on jellyfish.
Peter Richardson of the Marine Conservation Society said that it was almost unheard of for an adult leatherback to be here during the winter months.
"When a leatherback is in our seas at this time of year, with so few jellyfish around, you would suspect that there is something seriously wrong with it. The post-mortem is important for revealing if the turtle has perhaps swallowed a plastic bag," he said.
The turtle has been sent to Dublin for investigation because DEFRA's experts in Northern Ireland are currently embroiled in the bluetongue outbreak.