This evening, I went down to Allen’s Pond Audubon sanctuary in Dartmouth. At dusk, I was walking back along the beach when I heard someone shouting something over the sounds of the ocean. It was a fisherman I had seen fishing earlier.
“What?” I said, cupping my ear.
All I could hear in response was something-something-turtle.
I looked all around, but didn’t see anything. “Where?” I said.
He beckoned me over towards him, and when I got close enough he pointed to the ground in front of him. “It’s a leatherback,” he said.
A dead leatherback turtle lay at the edge of the water, mostly out of it. I would have said head first, but most of the head had been eaten away by something, leaving only the skull. If you weren’t looking, it could have been just another dark rock with seaweed hanging on it.
“I almost didn’t see it, but then I kicked this,” pointing at a piece of the flipper. “A boat or something must have hit him in the water,” he continued. “He must have come up here to die. Then probably one of the coyotes ate his head.” He paused, and we looked at the turtle for a bit. “I didn’t think they came this close in.”
“He hasn’t been here long,” I said. “He doesn’t stink yet.”
We looked over the body: almost black, sleek and streamlined, phenomenally beautiful even lacking the head. We thunked the shell. It was resilient, and sounded and felt much like a ripe watermelon when we tapped it with our knuckles. Ridges ran the length of the shell. The flippers were tapered and graceful. The whole body was big, a good five or six feet long, probably weighing a few hundred pounds. Even the blue-green curl of intestine spilling out from between the shells was beautiful. A senseless death.
“Well, now we can say we saw one,” said the fisherman, “even if it was dead.”
We started walking back to the road, and I asked him if the blues were running. He said they had been, but they had been feeding voraciously on some smaller fish and weren’t interested in what he threw at them. It was getting dark enough that the colors were fading, and as I got in the car I heard a few last terns screeching as they dove for prey into the ocean.