August 18, 2021
Over the last few weeks the Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown has recorded five instances of endangered leatherback sea turtles being released or partially released from entanglements in fishing gear off Cape Cod by good Samaritans. In at least four of those instances it is believed that the turtles were released with gear still attached, a situation that will likely lead to a slow and painful death.
“We believe that the intentions of these mariners were very good” said Scott Landry of the CCS MAER team, “but in all of those cases there could have been an alternative and positive outcome.”
All mariners are urged to immediately report entangled sea turtles and whales to authorities, and stay with the stricken animals at a safe distance while trained teams respond.
CCS Entanglement Hotline: 800-900-3622 | NOAA Entanglement Hotline: 866-755-NOAA (866-755-6622) | USCG: VHF Channel 16
Leatherback sea turtles are listed as endangered species and migrate from tropical nesting beaches to high latitude feeding grounds such as the bays and sounds of Massachusetts. While here they forage on jellyfish and related prey and are at risk of being struck by boats or entangled in fishing gear. Without intervention an entanglement is likely to be fatal. Releasing a leatherback sea turtle, some of which weigh up to 900 pounds, is not always easy and can lead to situations that are dangerous for both the turtles and mariners.
For that reason, the MAER team is on-call to safely respond to entanglement reports. During a disentanglement the team also collects valuable information about the life history of leatherbacks, gaining insight into this poorly-understood species.
The MAER team is on standby for any opportunistic sightings of the turtles released with gear still entangling them, but the odds of such sightings are low and the chances for disentanglement are diminished.
“It’s been a frustrating start to the leatherback season this year. We have spent many hours searching for these turtles but the odds are stacked against us. Please keep our hotline with you. Please reach out to the Coast Guard. And please stand by the turtle until we get there” said Landry. “Realize that if an entangled turtle is discovered alive and breathing at the surface it is not in immediate threat of drowning. With a bit of patience and cooperation, the prognosis for the turtle is very good.”
CCS disentanglement work is supported by grants from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA-DMF), and the Massachusetts Environmental Trust. Support is also provided by the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, the Pegasus Foundation, the Hermann Foundation, the Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation, and contributions from CCS members. All disentanglement activities are conducted under a federal permit authorized by NOAA.