Boaters Urged to Watch for Leatherbacks

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

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.

Do not touch the animals or the gear, or attempt to disentangle animals yourself. 

Leatherback turtles visit Massachusetts coastal waters annually from June through October to feed on jellyfish. While here, they are at risk of entanglement 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.

If you encounter an entangled sea turtle or whale, call the Marine Animal Disentanglement Hotline (800-900-3622), the NOAA Fisheries Hotline (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.

Do not touch the animals or the gear, or attempt to disentangle animals yourself. 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.

Leatherback turtles can grow to 5’ to 7’ 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.

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