600 lb Stranded Leatherback Turtle Rescued in Wellfleet

Credit: International Fund for Animal Welfare

WELLFLEET – Three local animal advocacy organizations were able to join efforts this past Sunday to help return a stranded five-foot, 600-pound leatherback sea turtle to the ocean. 

Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteers responded to the report of the stranded turtle and worked to keep the leatherback from drifting with the incoming tide. 

“We wanted to keep it off the oysters and keep it from stranding somewhere we couldn’t rescue it. If it got away, there was no telling where it would strand next,” said Wildlife Sanctuary Director Emeritus Bob Prescott in a statement. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and New England Aquarium were contacted soon after to help transport and assess the turtle’s health, and it was determined to be alert and responsive.

The task of rescuing animals so large is no easy feat, according to Kira Kasper, Stranding Biologist with the IFAW Marine Rescue Team on Cape Cod.

Stranded marine animals agitated by their experience can be potentially very dangerous if precautions aren’t taken, especially when the animal weighs in at 600 pounds. 

“There are absolutely a lot of safety hazards that we face going out into the field,” said Kasper. 

“We want to make sure that all of our team members are safe whenever we’re working with these animals in the field, because they are wild and capable of moving in ways that we might not be able to navigate away from. Human safety is our priority, we want to make sure our responders are still able to continue rescuing animals.”

The rescuers utilized a specialized cart that Kasper said is usually used for dolphins and other creatures, but can also accommodate larger passengers like leatherbacks. 

Kasper said that IFAW has decades of rescuing experience, as the Cape’s hook-like geography makes it a stranding hotspot for a variety of creatures, especially during the colder months when water temperatures plummet. 

After a blood sample was taken by New England Aquarium staff to assess the turtle’s health and an injection of vitamins and anti-inflammatory drug was administered, the marine animal was released back into the ocean with a crowd of cheering onlookers.

New England Aquarium said that it will also track the turtle with a satellite tag to determine if it survives and where it migrates over the next five to 10 years. 

“When working with stranded sea turtles in New England, it’s a rarity to have a turtle that is in such good condition. We suspect this leatherback got disoriented in the tidal flats of Wellfleet and we feel optimistic that it will survive, thanks to the collective rescue efforts of this fantastic group of colleagues,” said Dr. Kara Dodge, research scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. 

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native from Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the CapeCod.com News Center in 2019.

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