A Man Thought He’d Found A Capsized Boat. Then He Got Closer And Realized He’d Made A Big Mistake


When Ron MacLean went for a walk along the shoreline, he had no idea that he was about to make an extraordinary discovery. Even after seeing the strange object at first, he couldn’t make out what it was. But then MacLean got a closer look.

Experience On The Water

As a former chief engineer for the Canadian Coast Guard, Ron MacLean has a lot of maritime experience. In his retirement, the 64-year-old lives on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia. It was there that he made a shocking discovery.

Unexpected Find

In the past, Nova Scotia’s landscape has lent itself to a wide range of incredible finds. The province is surrounded by water and its cliffs are subject to constant erosion by the tides – sometimes revealing fossils that have lain hidden for millions of years.

Dark Ominous Shape Appears

On February 8, 2018, MacLean – who has kept himself fit and healthy in retirement – was taking a leisurely stroll along the shore of Bras d’Or Lake when he noticed a large dark shape. He immediately felt intrigued yet somewhat nervous as to what it might be.


Nova Scotia is encircled by the sea, so boats are a common sight on the shoreline. Of course, MacLean’s first impression was that he was looking at a “small overturned boat.” He didn’t seem too alarmed, except something was telling him to investigate further.

Unclear Shape

However, the shape was unclear, and it was also surrounded by ice which was a bit worrying. When he got nearer, MacLean realized that it wasn’t the debris of a vessel at all.

What Was It Then?

MacLean was no stranger to this area, he often took walks along the beach, and collected shells and rocks. He would see boats in the water, wrecked from the storms, but he had never witnessed something like this before. It felt sort of ominous but he would need to investigate further.

Washed Up Survivor

In fact, as he got close to it, he suddenly realized that it was a washed up survivor from a prehistoric age. MacLean went closer to investigate. He was excited about what he had stumbled upon.

Floating But Not Moving

MacLean later explained what had happened to CBC News. “When I touched it, it was floating a bit, so it wasn’t moving, so I knew it was dead,” he said. “But it was in good condition.” This was no boat – but a dead animal.

How Long Had It Been There

“It didn’t look like it was there that long, but that would be because [of] the ice and the cold and such,” he stated. The dead creature in the ice was in fact a leatherback turtle. The species is endangered – and this was a significant discovery.

Surviving Dinosaur

According to The Canadian current affairs magazine, leatherbacks are frequently referred to as “the dinosaur that survived.” That’s because the species has been around since the Cretaceous period, when tyrannosauruses walked the Earth. What’s more, it’s the biggest species of turtle alive today.

Unlike Any Other

Unlike other sea turtle species, leatherbacks don’t have a hard external casing but a skin-covered shell. They actively hunt lion’s mane jellyfish – and don’t seem to mind the jellys’ stinging tentacles.

Endangered Species Because Of Humans

And the leatherbacks’ eating habits are in fact part of the reason that they are endangered. Plastic bags closely resemble jellyfish to the turtles, but eating them can prove to be fatal. The turtles also face the threats of poachers and pollution.

Important Sighting Never Seen Before

However, MacLean’s discovery wasn’t just important because of the turtle’s vulnerable status. Despite sightings and rumors, there has never been a leatherback found in Bras d’Or Lake before. For this reason, the carcass was an important find – and MacLean was likely fully aware of the fact. But what would be his next move? Would he just leave this incredible species?

What Would He Do Now?

With this in mind, he attempted to contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to report the body. After several days of silence, MacLean emailed the Canadian Sea Turtle Network – and suddenly began to receive a lot of attention. “I got a call from pretty well everybody on Monday morning,” he told CBC News.

How Would They Load Up The Body?

MacLean noted that the DFO were very interested in the leatherback carcass – and they apparently wanted it for themselves. But loading up the body of such a big reptile was no easy task. MacLean would need some serious gains to haul the turtle out of the ice.

All The Help He Can Get

After lifting the body onto a wooden pallet, MacLean used a tractor to move it. He assessed the leatherback and revealed that it was two yards long and a yard across. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative’s Laura Bourque would later perform an autopsy.

What Would They Discover?

“It’s a big one,” she told CBC News. “Because it was emaciated, it didn’t weigh quite as much as expected – it weighed about 640 pounds. But its carapace, or its shell, was close to [two yards] in length, which is an adult-size carapace.” But why was it in the lake?

Unlikely Spot Causes Confusion

The discovery of a leatherback in the lake initially caused experts some confusion, but Maclean’s offered a theory as to what had happened. They speculated that the turtle had been hunting jellyfish and lost track of how far it had strayed. Becoming lost, they suggested, the animal couldn’t find enough food to eat and had starved to death.

Tragic Occurence

That would then explain why the underweight leatherback had turned up on the shores of Bras d’Or Lake. And although the death of an endangered animal is a tragedy, the carcass could provide a great deal of information. It was lucky that he was taking a walk and spotted it.

Answering Some Important Questions

Mike James, a sea turtle specialist who works for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, explained. “In this case, we have the full specimen right there up on the shoreline,” he told CBC News. Indeed, the carcass would hopefully answer some of the many questions that he and others had about the turtle.

History In The Making

“This is pretty exciting for us,” he continued. “Not only because the animal has now been collected, so we can study it further, but we can also hopefully get a good understanding of its body condition at the time that it died, which might tell us how long it might have been in the Bras d’Or Lake.”

Valuable Clues Discovered

Indeed, further investigation could reveal valuable insights into what had happened to the animal and how it had ended up in the condition that it had – as well as what this might mean for other members of its species.

Story Goes Viral

Maclean’s rare sighting obviously caught the attention of every major news network and local newspaper. “It’s a very significant record for sure” Sea turtle biologist Mike James commented. “The reason why this was discovered was because this community member decided to reach out and report this animal … in the future if anyone sees or hears about a leatherback turtle in their area, let us know. We love to know about these sightings and strandings,” he said.

Local Hero

“They’re a challenging animal to manage and a tricky beast to study,” James who works with the federal Fisheries Department said. Well then, if it wasn’t for his discovery on the beach, then incredible findings would not have been discovered. Now focus can be placed on the conservation of this incredible species, all thanks to Maclean.