Published on August 10, 2021

Summer Highs & Lows for Sea Turtles in Local Waters

Loggerhead seen off Newburyport, MA © Amy Warren
Loggerhead off Newburyport © Amy Warren

This summer has been especially dangerous for sea turtles foraging in southeastern Massachusetts waters.

So far, 11 dead loggerheads and four dead leatherbacks have been reported to Wellfleet Bay, 11 of them the victims of vessel strikes, a leading cause of sea turtle mortality.

"That's an unusually high number for such a short time span," notes Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator Karen Dourdeville.

The dead loggerheads were sub-adults ranging in age from approximately 12 to 25 years old. The leatherback, a mature female, was at least 30 years old. The vessel-struck turtles were reported in Harwich, West Falmouth, West Yarmouth, Woods Hole, Pocasset, Westport, and Scituate.

Wellfleet Bay is the federally designated responder to sea turtle strandings in the region. Loggerheads, a threatened species, and leatherbacks, an endangered species, are two of four species of sea turtles found in Massachusetts waters.

Boaters Urged to Watch Out for Sea Turtles

Boaters are being asked to be on alert for sea turtles. “Sea turtles can swim and bask at or just below the water’s surface and can be difficult to see if the vessel operator is not paying careful attention,” Dourdeville notes. She also urges boaters to avoid using autopilot.

Wellfleet Bay operates a reporting website and hotline for sea turtle sightings. Boaters can report all sea turtle sightings on the website, seaturtlesightings.org, or by calling 1-888-SEA-TURT (1-888-732-8878).

Return to the Wild

On a brighter note, four loggerheads, cold-stunned on Cape beaches last fall and rescued by Wellfleet Bay staff and volunteers, were released recently following months of rehabilitation at the New England Aquarium. Thanks to Marjorie Pitt, one of nearly 200 Wellfleet Bay sea turtle rescue volunteers, for sharing this video. Last year, more than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles were rescued or recovered from Cape beaches.