a leatherback surfaces for air during disentanglement on September 8
Throughout the summer of 2004 the PCCS disentanglement team received numerous reports of entangled leatherback sea turtles. While not every report could be verified as a leatherback (despite searches some animals were never found) and some were found to be already dead, the PCCS team managed to free four individuals. All of these were entangled in the buoy lines of lobster gear and the success of the disentanglements depended upon the patience of mariners who were willing to stand by the animals until the PCCS team arrived. All of these animals sustained relatively minor chafing wounds and were likely prevented from feeding normally for the duration of their entanglements. Interestingly not all of these animals were anchored by the entangling gear: one large turtle had broken or bitten its way free of the lobster traps and was free-swimming with line around its neck and flippers and a second turtle was able to swim efficiently while towing at least one lobster trap.
This summer many other leatherbacks were reported as disentangled by fishermen and other research and conservation organizations, including Wellfleet Audubon. A brief account of the four cases follows:
June 29: a group of kids fishing from the beach at Long Point, Provincetown reported an animal towing gear just offshore. With the help of the Provincetown Harbormaster the PCCS team found a large leatherback towing a buoy and line that was wrapped around the neck and at least one flipper. The team threw a work line and grapple into the trailing gear and hauled the animal alongside the rescue vessel, Ibis, and cut the ropes free.
August 2: a lobsterman reported an entangled turtle off Wellfleet, Cape Cod to PCCS and stood by the animal. Despite towing at least one lobster trap by the buoy line wrapped around its neck and both fore flippers, the turtle was able to dive and swim freely. The team attached a work line to some of the trailing gear to control the animal while the gear was cut free.
September 8: a lobsterman reported an entangled turtle to the U.S. Coast Guard and stood by the animal while PCCS responded. This especially large individual was anchored by two sets of gear with wraps of line around its neck and one flipper. With the help of the fisherman, the PCCS team cut the wraps of line and the animal swam off with a small length of line that was likely shed quickly.
September 13: a beachgoer in Sandwich, Cape Cod, reported an animal wallowing in gear just offshore. Personnel from the local Coast Guard station and from the Cape Cod Stranding Network verified the report and stood by a large turtle anchored in gear. The PCCS team arrived and used a work line to hold the animal at the surface before unwinding the gear from the neck and flipper.
Relatively little is known about this endangered species, especially in their northern, summertime feeding grounds. These often large, marine reptiles (they can weigh over 1,000 pounds) nest on tropical and sub-tropical beaches and spend much of the year wandering the higher latitudes, foraging for animals like jellyfish. Sightings of leatherbacks at sea are incredibly rare but entanglement reports indicate that they are an important part of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.
click here to read about previous entanglements