Endangered Leatherback Rescued and Released in New England

Written by on September 25, 2012 in Marine Life

Last Thursday (Sept 20), the New England Aquarium rescued a 7-foot, 655-pound, stranded leatherback sea turtle from a mud flat near the tip of Cape Cod.  The animal was treated and released by Saturday (Sept 22).

A leatherback swimming. Photo credit: NOAA.

A leatherback swimming. Photo credit: NOAA.

Leatherback strandings are incredibly rare.  The New England Aquarium, which treats and rehabilitates many sea turtles every year, has only handled five leatherbacks from Massachusetts beaches in more than four decades.

The turtle was lethargic, underweight and had a severely damaged flipper.  The left front flipper was more than a foot shorter than the three-foot right side, most likely due to recent trauma.

Many turtles have been known to survive after losing parts of flippers from predators like sharks, but some of the aquarium staff believed that this turtle lost his flipper to a vertical line in the water (form a lobster pot, other fishing equipment or a boat mooring).  Entanglements, along with recreational boat strikes, are the leading causes of death for leatherbacks in New England.

While the turtle was stabilized, he was not in ideal condition for release.  The team decided to release him anyway, because leatherbacks have poor survival rates in aquariums.  They are almost never found behind glass because they constantly run into the walls and they have a very specific diet–they feed only on jellyfish.  This lead officials to believe that his best chance of survival was in the sea.

Before being released on Saturday morning, it was fitted with a satellite tag so that its progress can be monitored.

In the following video, you can see the process of releasing the turtle back to the water.

To learn more, check out some of these links:

Leatherback sea turtle. Photo credit: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Leatherback sea turtle. Photo credit: Scott R. Benson, NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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