Massive Loggerhead Sea Turtle Washes Ashore in Wellfleet

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary photo credit Elora Grahame: Sanctuary director Robert Prescott looks over the massive loggerhead sea turtle rescued from Great Island in Wellfleet.

WELLFLEET – The cold-stunned turtle stranding season along Cape Cod Bay kicked into high gear this week.

The highlight was a massive loggerhead sea turtle that washed up in Wellfleet Wednesday that could be largest ever to come ashore in Massachusetts.

Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife sanctuary volunteers and staff and a Cape Cod National Seashore park ranger rescued the nearly 300 pound turtle from Great Island in Wellfleet.

It was transported to the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy.

The sea turtle was found by Wellfleet Bay sea turtle volunteers Bruce Hurter and Charlie Sullivan at Great Beach Hill, approximately 2 miles out on a 6 mile-long barrier beach.

“I’ve never seen a bigger loggerhead come ashore,” said sanctuary director Robert Prescott.

He said the turtle is a mature turtle, which means it’s likely well over the age of 30 when loggerheads generally reach sexual maturity.

The turtle had old wounds on its right front and rear flippers. But Prescott says it’s hard to say what brought the turtle ashore.

“Any loggerhead this size is compromised in some way, for some reasons we can tell, some we can’t.”

Loggerheads are classified as threatened on the federal endangered species list.

Prescott, who’s been responding to sea turtle strandings in southeast Massachusetts for more than 35 years, says the last unusually large loggerhead to strand on the Cape was in Eastham in 2014.

It weighed 278 pounds and it wasn’t as long as the animal rescued on Wednesday.

The loggerhead was rescued on a day when dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles, most of them much smaller Kemp’s ridleys, were rescued on bayside beaches between Dennis and Eastham.

The sanctuary has recovered more than 300 sea turtles since the Cape’s annual cold-stun period began October 22, about two weeks earlier than usual.

The fall stranding season has also included two live leatherbacks, the largest species of sea turtle. Neither of the two turtles survived.

While those turtles were being rescued, 20 recently rescued sea turtles were packed up from the Quincy facility and driven to the Marshfield Airport.

From there they were flown to the Sunshine State by a volunteer private pilot. Steve Bernstein of Newark, New Jersey is part of the aviation organization Turtles Fly Too.

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