Rare sightings of leatherback turtles off Grand Strand

It's not every day you get to see huge leatherback sea turtles off the Grand Strand.

It's even rarer if you can see them from your back porch, like Douan Bingham.

Bingham enjoys a spectacular view from the balcony of his 14th floor condo in Garden City Beach.

"We see everything from dolphins and sharks and jellyfish," Bingham said.

Over the past few days, Bingham has been seeing something in the ocean he'd never seen before. It's what his kids imagined was a mermaid and he thought, at first, was a drowning swimmer.

"It was some big giant black thing in the water with arms and a head. And it was a giant leatherback sea turtle."

Bingham held his iPhone camera up to his binoculars to record some rare video of the sea creatures.

The giant leatherbacks in his video are maybe seven-feet long and just a few feet away from totally unaware surfers and boaters.

Turtle experts say leatherbacks can be found in oceans all over the world, so it's not terribly unusual for them to be somewhere off the Grand Strand. It is quite unusual for them to be that close to shore.

Huntington Beach State Park naturalist Molly Wainscott says leatherback breeding season is coming up soon.

Maybe that has something to do with it, she says, or maybe they're just hungry.

"They feed on (jellyfish), so they're probably heading back up into colder waters for feeding," Wainscott said.

Wainscott, who studied leatherbacks in Costa Rica last summer, says the species is the third largest reptile in the world.

It's a gentle creature, no threat to swimmers.

"Honestly, if (swimmers) get to see one, they're very lucky and they should take that as a blessing."

Wainscott says poachers are killing them off in countries where leatherback eggs are considered a delicacy.

She says leatherbacks need to be protected, so take care, if you get a chance, like Duoan Bingham, to see them up close.