Wildlife Officials Warn Boaters About Presence of Sea Turtles

HYANNIS – The summer season is well underway and wildlife officials are warning boaters about the return of sea turtles to the waters off Cape Cod and the Islands.

Vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements are the two most common causes of sea turtle mortality, according to Sea Turtle Research Associate for Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Karen Dourdeville.

“We’re trying to get boaters aware of watching for them in order to avoid hitting them and also in hopes of getting reports,” Dourdeville said. “Sightings are important because they help us know where and when the different species are using the local habitat.”

Sightings can be reported to seaturtlesightings.org. The site, maintained by the sanctuary, provides photos, videos and educational tips to aid boaters who may not be familiar with what the different species found in local waters look like in the water. Sightings can also be reported by phone at 1-888-SEA-TURT (732-8878).

Last year, sanctuary staff responded to 28 strandings of dead leatherback sea turtles, and 15 of those showed signs of begin hit by boats.

Dourdeville also encourages boaters to refrain from using autopilot.

“Autopilots don’t see sea turtles or other marine life,” she said. “We’re asking boaters to keep a sharp eye at the helm.”

The cold, wet and windy spring got the sea turtle sighting season off to a slow start, but sightings have recently been made in Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound and Vineyard Sound.

“They could be anywhere,” Dourdeville said.

Although there have not been any reported hot sports this season there have been more frequented areas in the past.

“Sighting reports are really just getting rolling in recent weeks,” she said.

Five loggerhead sea turtles that were rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy were released with satellite tags last week and have been tracked in the Craigville Beach area off Centerville.

The four sea turtle species that feed in local waters off Southeastern New England in the summer and fall are critically endangered Kemp’s ridley, endangered leatherback, and threatened loggerhead and green species.

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