Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
boardwalk trail through a grassy meadow
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Wellfleet

Boaters Urged to Watch Out for Sea Turtles this Summer

July 11, 2023

Every summer we’re excited to think that four species of sea turtles are returning to feed in our coastal waters: Leatherbacks, Loggerheads, juvenile Greens and juvenile Kemp’s ridleys. With the excitement, however, comes the knowledge that the return of these magnificent, federally protected creatures also means that some will get fatally struck by vessels.

What Boaters Should Know

For over 20 years, Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay has worked to educate boaters about four basic facts: sea turtles are here; sea turtles can be swimming or basking at or just below the surface; sea turtles can be difficult to see and can resemble patches of floating seaweed; and a vessel strike is usually fatal to a sea turtle. We ask boaters to report sightings on our website, seaturtlesightings.org, or to report sightings by phone at 888-SEA-TURT (888-732-8878).

Sea turtle research coordinator Karen Dourdeville says the database/hotline has already received credible reports of live, free-swimming Kemp’s ridleys, Loggerheads and Leatherbacks.

Leatherback turtle swimming in water
© Amy Warren

The Importance of Reporting a Sighting

“Spotting a sea turtle on the water is a rare and exciting event. Even the most seasoned boat operators tell us they’ve never seen a turtle on the water before,” Karen says. Recently, boater Nora Kelly shared her video of a swimming Loggerhead just below the surface of Buzzards Bay.

Sadly, two deceased sea turtles have already stranded on area beaches - a vessel-struck sub-adult Loggerhead in West Dennis, and a mature, female leatherback in Wareham. “It’s especially important that boaters not use auto pilot, so that they can keep their eyes ahead of their vessels,” Karen says.

The sea turtle sightings database can also serve as a resource for researchers, including scientists working on proposed new offshore wind lease sites and mapping Leatherback occurrence related to oceanic climate change in the northwest Atlantic.

If you are a boater, or if you know boaters, please help us spread the word to watch for and report sea turtles!