Historicity of Sea Turtles Misidentified as Sea Monsters: A Case for the Early Entanglement of Marine Chelonians in Pre-plastic Fishing Nets and Maritime Debris

  • Robert France Dalhousie University Ocean Research Group Department of Environmental Sciences


Entanglement of sea turtles (marine chelonians) in active or abandoned (i.e. ‘ghost nets’) fishing gear and other discarded maritime debris is a serious problem in contemporary marine conservation biology, one commonly believed to have begun with the advent of non-degradable plastic in the middle of the twentieth century. As chelonians have been mistaken for purported sea monsters, this anecdotal literature can prove valuable for extending inferences about sea turtles backward in time. The present paper examines this body of evidence to suggest that what have been erroneously believed to be sea monsters, were sometimes in fact chelonians entangled in anthropogenic fishing equipment or litter. Therefore, rather than being restricted to only the recent age of plastic, entanglement of sea turtles probably has a more lengthy environmental history. KEYWORDS: sea monsters, sea turtles (chelonians), entanglement, fishing gear, maritime debris