Boaters warned to be aware of sea turtles in Buzzards Bay
“I never knew they made it this far north.’’
That reaction is common among Buzzards Bay boaters startled to observe sea turtles swimming alongside their vessels, said Karen Dourdeville of Marion, coordinator of the Sea Turtle Sightings Hotline, operated by Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
People frequently associate the turtles with warmer climates, where they build nests and hatchlings emerge. But this area is “a really important feeding habitat’’ for sea turtles in late spring, summer and fall, Dourdeville said.
On June 24, the first leatherback sea turtle sighting in Buzzards Bay was reported this season at Lucas Shore on Vineyard Sound, between Menemsha and the Elizabeth Islands, Dourdeville said. The turtle was “healthy and swimming,’’ the witness reported.
With reports that turtles have returned to the area for the season, Dourdeville warns boaters to be aware of the animals to avoid striking them, which can have disastrous effects on the turtles. “Sea turtles have to surface to breathe and sometimes bask or swim at, or just below, the surface,’’ she said in a prepared statement. “Boat strikes account for many of the deaths in stranded sea turtles.’’
She also encourages boaters to report sightings to the hotline, which has worked to gather data and raise awareness about sea turtles in the region. The hotline creates a growing database of sightings of live turtles, which can help scientists learn more about the population, Dourdeville said.
Four types of turtles swim area waters:
Leatherbacks, which can run to eight feet long and 1,500 pounds. They have compared to an overturned dinghy in size and appearance.
Loggerheads, which average 300 pounds and three feet in length.
These two turtles are seen most frequently because of their sizes.
Then there are two smaller turtles.
Green, which are about the size of a smallserving dish, at 12-20 inches.
Kemp’s Ridley, which are 12-15 inches, or about the size of a dinner plate.
Three of the four turtles are on the endangered species list, with the loggerhead listed as threatened. The Kemp’s Ridley in particular is the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world, Dourdeville said.
The sea turtle hotline, 888-732-8878, has been encouraging boaters and others to report sea turtle sightings since 2003. In 2008 organizers added a website, SeaTurtleSightings.org, to allow online reporting.
In 2009, High Road Marketing and Communications of Rochester improved the hotline’s website, adding descriptions about how to identify the sea turtle species, images of free-swimming turtles, and geo-mapping plots showing sightings over the years.
This year High Road donated a major redesign of the website so boaters could navigate the site more easily while on the water. “I am very interested in and concerned about the environment, particularly our coastal environment,’’ said High Road co-owner Helen Granger.
Boaters, including recreational fishermen, play an important role in tracking the turtle population, Dourdeville said. “They’re watching the water,’’ she said.
The Environmental Police have responded to 26 calls of sea turtles in distress since Jan. 1, 2014. Of these, 17 were disentangled after becoming tangled in netting or other substances, five were found dead and four were not able to be disentangled but survived, said Sgt. Pat Moran of the Environmental Police.
Most of these reports came from Cape Cod Bay, Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay, with one found between Dartmouth and Westport.
“They’re absolutely out there,’’ Moran said. “We need boaters to be aware that they are here.’’