Rescuers disentangle leatherback sea turtle in waters off Wellfleet


Leatherbacks, the largest type of sea turtle in the world, are susceptible to getting entangled in fishing gear.

The Center for Coastal Studies’ MAER team working to unwind the entanglement from the leatherback turtle on Aug. 27 in Cape Cod Bay. Center for Coastal Studies, permit 50 CFR 222.310

A rescue team successfully disentangled a 400-pound leatherback sea turtle in Cape Cod Bay Sunday, likely saving the animal’s life. 

The turtle was found by boaters off the coast of Wellfleet and immediately reported to the Center for Coastal Studies, a Provincetown-based nonprofit that researches and works to save marine life in the area. The organization dispatched its Marine Animal Entanglement Response team to save the leatherback. The boaters stayed by the turtle until the rescue team arrived. 

It was dragging a buoy line that was connected to fishing gear. The line was wrapped multiple times around the animal’s front flipper, and it appeared that others had already tried freeing the turtle. The buoy line had clearly been cut, which was likely done by “well-intentioned mariners,” according to the Center for Coastal Studies. 

This left the turtle able to freely swim, but still badly entangled. The rescue team used a grappling hook to catch the rope and carefully bring the turtle alongside their boat. They observed injuries that indicated it was likely entangled for weeks. They successfully removed the entangling lines and freed the animal. 

“Without the help and patience of the boaters who reported the case to us, this turtle would have been lost,” rescue team member Bob Lynch said in a statement. 

Leatherbacks are the largest type of sea turtle in the world. They grow to as long as eight feet and can weigh as much as 1,300 pounds. They are found all over the planet, and are able to withstand colder temperatures than other sea turtles. 

Leatherbacks found in the waters off Massachusetts usually breed on South American, Caribbean, or beaches in Florida during the winter. They move into the waters off New England in the spring, and then disperse throughout the Atlantic. They head back south in September and October. 

Last year, rescuers freed an entangled leatherback near Nantucket. Researchers from the New England Aquarium regularly work with colleagues in Puerto Rico to study the animals.