A FISHERMAN was left 'flabbergasted' after spotting a rare leatherback turtle off the west Dorset coast.

John King saw the animal while taking a group of holidaymakers mackerel fishing in Lyme Bay at the weekend.

The 'Susie B' skipper said he couldn't believe the size of the creature, which was eating a barrel jellyfish.

Leatherback turtles are normally seen in the Caribbean or Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

"I have never seen one before and I've spoken to fishermen who have been out here for 40 years and they have still never seen one," explained John.

"They are endangered so I was a bit concerned about it - but I've been told they can adapt to colder water temperatures, so I am hopeful that it will make it.

"It was absolutely massive, and it seemed to be eating a barrel jellyfish, which are pretty big themselves."

John said the turtle suddenly appeared by the side of the boat, and it was around seven feet long with a very large head.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted" he said. "I didn't think turtles were anything like that size.

"Two seconds before I took the picture, the turtle had its whole head out of the water with the barrel jellyfish in its jaws trying to bite off a chunk.

"Curiosity took over me and I couldn't help but take the picture. It was a shame there was only a couple of people on the boat at the time because it' something you hope as many people as possible would get to see."

Leatherbacks are the largest living turtle and are regarded as a 'vulnerable' species.

Dorset Wildlife Trust think this could be the first live confirmed sighting of a rare Leatherback turtle in the county.

Julie Hatcher, marine awareness officer for the Dorset Wildlife Trust thinks there is no reason why more of the creatures won't be spotted in Dorset, with so many barrel jellyfish in the waters.

"There was someone who got in touch with us who said they had spotted a Leatherback turtle off the coast near Portland, but they didn't get a picture," she said.

"This is the first confirmed sighting that we are aware of and it's just amazing.

"We have had all these barrel jellyfish sightings on the coast this year and we always say we get quite excited about the possibility that we could get the turtles who came to feed on the jellyfish.

"They are extremely rare to see here. They breed in the Caribbean and then travel across the ocean in the Jet Stream to feed off jellyfish. They can be quite commonly spotted off the coast of Ireland, but to see one in the English Channel is remarkable really."