Published on September 16, 2022

Summer's Sea Turtle Sightings

loggerhead_Jonathan Gwalthney

For 20 years, Mass Audubon Cape Cod has operated seaturtlesightings.org, a sea turtle sightings program aimed at urging boaters to report sea turtles and to watch for them to avoid vessel strikes As in recent summers, we’ve had relatively few sightings of the world’s largest sea turtles, the leatherbacks, especially in Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay.

We know from research colleagues that quite a few leatherbacks have been seen south and southeast of Nantucket. With the arrival of the early fall season, there is indication that some leatherbacks may be moving into Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds. Lots of boaters have been spotting loggerheads, however, especially in Nantucket Sound along the south shore of Cape Cod.

Sea Turtles Close to Shore

More than a typical number of juvenile Kemp’s ridleys have been seen north of the Cape. Of special interest are four Kemp’s ridley sightings in very shallow water; three were “stranded” temporarily in runnels behind sand bars along shore with receding tides in Brewster (see photo at right), Eastham, and Orleans. A fourth Kemp’s ridley stranded in Sandwich, in a tidal creek. All four returned to open water as the tides rose. We received photos of three of these, so can confirm that they were different turtles.

The Last of the Cold-stuns

Tumeric_LK_resized_credit NEAq (2)

A highlight of the summer was New England Aquarium’s releases of rehabilitated cold-stunned sea turtles into Nantucket Sound from West Dennis Beach–Kemp’s ridleys, Loggerheads and Greens rescued by Mass Audubon Cape Cod’s volunteers and staff in 2021. The final release on September 6th included two turtles that had required intensive veterinary care, including a Kemp’s ridley that had a broken shell and two fractures of the right rear flipper.

“The nature and distribution of the fractures were typical of those associated with vessel strike, a common cause of injury and death for sea turtles, “ says Dr. Charles Innis, the Aquarium’s Director of Animal Health. “Sea turtles can do well despite missing limbs, and there have been many observations of three-legged turtles thriving in the wild.”

With the last of the 2021 rehabbed turtles returned to the sea, we have only a month or so before the 2022 cold-stun rescue season gets underway!

This article was contributed by Mass Audubon Cape Cod's Sea Turtle Research Coordinator, Karen Dourdeville.