Officials Alert Boaters About Sea Turtles and Urge to Report Sightings


A leatherback sea turtle.

BARNSTABLE – Sea turtles have been spotted in waters around the Cape and the Islands and officials from the Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary are getting the word out to boaters.

The first two sea turtle sightings of the season, which were leatherbacks, were made within the past week near Lucas Shoal in Vineyard Sound and in Ipswich Bay.

Leatherbacks, which are the world’s largest sea turtle, will be joined in the waters off southern New England by loggerheads, greens and Kemp’s ridleys.

The Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has been encouraging boaters to report sea turtle sightings and has been operating a sea turtle sightings hotline for more than a decade. That number is 888-732-8878.

An online reporting website,, has been operating since 2008.

“We are trying to alert boaters that they are out there,” said Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Hotline Coordinator Karen Dourdeville. “Both to get their sightings data and to watch for them to not hit them.”

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Director Robert Prescott said the waters in the area are filled with boaters during this time of year which can help researchers with data collection.

“With that many eyes on the water and people’s capability with phones and iPads and other devices, it’s been really helpful over the last couple of years in documenting the presence and absence of sea turtles from our inshore water bodies,” Prescott said.

High Road Marketing and Communications, a company out of Rochester improved the hotline’s website in 2009 adding descriptions about how to identify the sea turtle species, images of swimming turtles and geo-mapping plots showing sightings over the years.

High Road donated a major redesign of the website this year to make it easier for boaters to use the website while on the water.

“There is an increase of smart phones and other mobile devices everywhere. More boaters are out on the water with them,” said High Road Marketing and Communications co-owner Helen Granger. “We wanted to ensure that anyone, on any device, can use the website both to report sightings quickly and to help identify what sea turtles they see.”

The Wildlife Sanctuary believes the increased data collected could help to be more prepared for the winter.

“We are hoping to use the sightings of these hardshell turtles, the loggerheads and ridleys, to help us maybe add another predictive factor into the cold stunning episodes that we have had,” said Prescott.

Another goal of the hotline and website is to keep boaters aware of the presence of sea turtles to prevent them from getting injured.

“These are reptiles. They have to breathe air,” said Dourdeville. “They come to the surface to breathe and sometimes they swim at the surface so they can be very susceptible to boat strikes.”

Dourdeville said boat strikes are identified as the cause of death for a lot of the stranded sea turtles they find during the summer and early fall.

Prescott said that anyone on the water that sees a sea turtle in distress, injured or tangled in fishing gear should contact the Center for Coastal Studies at 800-900-3622.
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