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Turtle caught between San Pedro and Catalina

Turtles living in the oceans of the world include only seven species, five of which are known from the waters of the California Channel Islands ~ all but Kemp's ridley sea turtle and Australia's flatback sea turtle.

Family Cheloniidae

  • Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
  • Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) rarest and most engdangered
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Flatback Sea Turtle (Natator depressus) endemic to Australia
  • Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

Family Dermochelyidae

  • Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

In the News~

July 19, 1877 [SBDP]: “This morning as the U.S. Coast Survey steamer, McArthur, was steaming from her late anchorage in Beecher’s Bay, Santa Rosa Island, toward the coast, a large turtle was descried just astern of the ship, lying in the water, breast upwards. It was apparently disabled, as was then supposed, by the ship’s propeller… It was the largest specimen ever seen by anyone on board, weighing in the neighborhood of seven hundred pounds… It was a female of the hawksbill species…”

July 21, 1877 [SBDP]: “Yesterday afternoon considerable interest was exhibited by numbers of persons who visited the Odd Fellows; building to gaze upon the shell of the turtle which was captured by the crew of the McArthur. It was presented by the Captain to the Odd Fellows’ Society. The shell is unlike any turtle shell that has been seen even by an old expert who for years was engaged in catching turtles of all sorts and sizes. Along the middle of the shell runs a backbone, similar to that of a shark, and long ribs extend from it, on either side, to the edge of the shell. The ribs are embedded in a thick layer of blubber-like fat, averaging about 2 inches in thickness. The shell is covered on the outside with a rubber-like skin very similar to the skin of a porpoise. The flesh is very dark, coarse and strong, and is unpalatable, but the soup made from it is very good. The Odd Fellows’ intend to have it preserved and will add it to their already numerous library attractions.”

April 19, 1899 [LAT/SP]: “S. W. Waring, who recently disposed of his interest in the lobster-packing plant of the Catalina Conserving Company… will leave in a few days on a tour down the Mexican coast, and hopes to make arrangements for getting the big turtles which frequent the waters along there. If he is successful in the trip, the turtles will be made into canned soups...”

August 22, 1901 [SBMP]: “Monster green turtle caught by fishermen in the channel. Sebastian Larco is in possession of a large turtle caught by his men yesterday afternoon, which is considered to be worth hundreds of dollars to a museum or institute. Every afternoon about 4:30 o’clock the fishermen in his employ pull in their nets, which are set in the channel about a mile and a half out. Yesterday, while they were returning, they noticed several large splashes resembling a whale in distress, located in the center of the kelp. They immediately turned their boats in that direction, and on arriving at the spot noticed that the cause of the disturbance was a monster turtle, caught in the kelp and unable to extricate itself. After considerable hard work, a rope was fastened to it and an effort made to bring it to the boat. Finally the monster was dragged in, but scarcely had it landed before it struck one of the men with its wing, or fin, sending him headlong into the ocean, and then crawled back into the water... A rope was securely fastened and the turtle towed to the beach and landed. A wagon was called and their capture was safely landed at Larco’s residence. Then another struggle began. The turtle objected to being taken into the fish house, and three powerful men were unable to master him. They were thrown aside by the turtle, carried upon his back and occasionally thrown down. More assistance was needed, and not until six men with ropes attached to the monster’s body were they able to conquer him. Captain Larco was interviewed… ’It is a pure green turtle, and of great value… I never heard of but one other being captured on the Pacific Coast. It was taken by government officials aboard the coast survey steamer McArthur, near San Francisco, many years ago…’ The exact weight of the turtle is not known, yet it will weigh over 600 pounds. It measures almost seven feet in length by four feet across the back, and from tip to tip of the front fins over twelve feet. Mr. Larco will exhibit it beginning tomorrow. An effort will be made to have it put in the bathhouse, where thousands of people could see it. By throwing salt water over it daily it can be kept alive indefinitely… Piano Larco and Pietro Marfoli were the fishermen who captured it.”

August 23, 1901 [SBMP]: “Monster turtle died yesterday. The monster turtle that was captured by the Larco boys Wednesday afternoon died about 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon. It is supposed that it was injured while being brought to the beach, and also when being placed in the fish house. Many people were at the Larco residence during the morning to view the curiosity, and various scientists were searching for the proper species to which it belonged. There is some talk of having it stuffed… Dr. Yates contributes the following account of the ocean turtle, classifying the Santa Barbara find: ‘…is the Luth or leathery turtle (Sphargia cortacea); so called from the fact of its having no horny plates, the bones being covered with a strong leathery skin’…”

August 23, 1901 [SBMP]: “Wanted a museum. The discovery of a remarkable specimen of the green turtle in the Santa Barbara Channel and the subsequent destruction of this valuable creature because there is no place in which such curiosities of the sea may be kept, demonstrates the necessity for the making of some provision for a museum and aquarium in this city…”

August 23, 1901 [LAT/SB]: “A remarkable marine animal was caught by one of Larco’s fishing boats yesterday, and no one here has yet been able to classify it. In appearance it resembles a huge turtle, but is quite different from any animal of that kind ever seen here. Its shell is about six feet long and about the same width at the widest part, being rather of a pear shape. The flippers extend outside of the shell between three and four feet, and the head almost as far, never being drawn under the shell, as is the case with the ordinary turtle. Its weight is probably between 500 and 600 pounds, and it had to be lassoed and towed about a mile and a half to shore, as the fishermen could not get it in the boat.”

August 25, 1901 [SBMP]: “The monster turtle captured by fishermen a few days ago was on exhibition at yesterday at George C. Sherman’s meat market. Many visitors viewed the curiosity. Dr. L. G. Yates will mount it for Sebastian Larco.”

August 25, 1901 [LAH]: “J. W. Nier of Santa Barbara has classified the large sea turtle caught on Wednesday in this channel as a native of the Mediterranean sea. It is Spargis coriacia, and its being on this coast is the greatest of wonders. The thing is not edible. It was killed Thursday afternoon because it seemed to be dying from being so long out of water. It had been placed in a large tank house, where it was kept wet down, but in this it was apparently not happy, for with its large and powerful flippers it smashed out one of the sides of the house and got into the yard of the Larco Fish Market, where it was kept. It was then placed in a tank so small that it could not move in any way. Putting it in this cramped position was probably the cause of its death. How the turtle got into these waters would be an interesting study in ocean currents. It must have come from the Mediterranean. The skin and shell have been saved.”

July 25, 1902 [LAT/SP]: “The San Pedro Canning Company was incorporated today with a capitalization of $50,000, of which $25,000 has been subscribed. The officers and directors are George de la Vargne, president; Paul F. de la Vargne, vice-president; Frank K. Burns, secretary; State Bank of San Pedro, treasurer; W. W. Beach, manager. It is the purpose of the new corporation to establish a new canning factory in this city for the manufacture of all kinds of sea foods, and canning of fish, lobsters, abalones, clams, turtles, etc.”

January 5, 1905 [SBMP]: “The large turtle caught by Captain Gourley and Albert Stafford in the channel Tuesday is an attraction at the pleasure wharf and is being viewed by hundreds. The big reptile measures 9 feet from flipper to flipper, and 7 feet from nose to tail. It is probable that the Chamber of Commerce will acquire it as an exhibition to be placed in their rooms in the Howard-Canfield building.”

January 12, 1905 [SBMP]: “Late arrivals from San Francisco report the big leather-back turtle that George Gourley caught in the channel last week has reached San Francisco, and that it attracted a great deal more attention in the city hall than it did here. From the time it was unloaded until it was taken to the Academy of Sciences it was followed by crowds of people who had never before had an opportunity of seeing such a monster tortoise.”

February 6, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “The pet turtle which has been so long an occupant of the local aquarium, has passed to the turtle beyond. Many years ago (the exact date has been forgotten) Captain V. Moricich, while hauling a seine at Johnson’s, caught the turtle. It was placed in the aquarium, and since the Avalon fire has practically been the only occupant of the building. For many years visitors fed the turtle as it rolled about lazily in the glass tank. Every two weeks the water was drained off, and the keeper gave it a bath—scrubbing off the moss and the parasites that gathered on its huge shell. The chelonian knew its keeper and never molested him while feeding it or cleaning out the tank. Professor C. B. Parker is mounting the big fellow.”

1939 Oneil p. 258: “[G.W. Gourley] fished the Santa Barbara waters thoroughly and with such success that he captured a sea turtle of gargantuan proportions which now reposes for all time in the San Francisco Museum.”