For Immediate Release - July 13, 2012

Marine Officials Urge Boaters to Report Entangled Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtle sightings reported around Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound

Photo of leatherback turtle

BOSTON – Friday, July 13, 2012 – With the busiest weeks of the boating season in the late summer and fall, state marine biologists are urging boaters and commercial fishermen to be on the lookout for migrating leatherback turtles, an endangered species.

Leatherback sea turtles visit Massachusetts coastal waters annually from June through October to feed on jellyfish. While here, they are at risk of getting entangled in buoy lines and/or struck by vessels. For this reason, the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies operate the Marine Animal Disentanglement Program, which includes a 24-hour hotline. 

Boaters are reminded to immediately call the Marine Animal Disentanglement Hotline, if they see an entangled sea turtle or whale. Please call the Entanglement Hotline at 800-900-3622 or NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 866-755-NOAA (or hail the Coast Guard on Channel 16). Remain at a safe distance from the animal and stand by until trained help arrives. 

Vessel operators should not to touch the animals or the gear, or attempt to disentangle animals themselves.

In recent weeks, several boaters have performed disentanglements on their own, which is illegal and unsafe for the boaters as well as the turtles. In many cases, an untrained disentanglement can be detrimental to the animal and result in serious injury to the people involved.

The disentanglement program is part of a larger collaborative that includes the University of Massachusetts and New England Aquarium. The goal of the project is to research leatherback turtle behavior and habitat-use in Massachusetts and surrounding areas, and to mitigate entanglement in fixed-gear fisheries, such as lobster fishing. In the summer and fall of 2012, DMF and its partners will be tagging leatherbacks with satellite tags, as well as suction cup tags that provide fine-scale data on the leatherbacks movements in the water column. 

Leatherback turtles can grow to five to seven feet long and can weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds. They are black with a soft shell and distinctive ridges running down their back. Leatherbacks are found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans in locations as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Australia. The global population is estimated at 26,000 to 43,000 nesting females annually, which is a dramatic decline from the 115,000 estimated in 1980.

# # #