600-Pound Leatherback Sea Turtle Rescued on Cape Cod Beach

by Jon D. B.

Leatherback rescue: “When working with stranded sea turtles in New England, it’s a rarity to have a turtle that is in such good condition.”

Up in Wellfleet, MA, three animal advocacy organizations banded together over the weekend to help return a sea giant to it’s oceanic home. It’s a fantastic conservation tale; especially considering the size of this gargantuan turtle.

Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary volunteers were among those to respond to the initial sighting. Locals spotted an enormous leatherback sea turtle becoming stranded with the incoming tide. These giants can grow to sizes we normally don’t associate with turtles. This leatherback in particular was over 5-feet-long and weighs approximately 600-pounds. That’s a lotta leatherback!

“When working with stranded sea turtles in New England, it’s a rarity to have a turtle that is in such good condition. We suspect this leatherback got disoriented in the tidal flats of Wellfleet and we feel optimistic that it will survive, thanks to the collective rescue efforts of this fantastic group of colleagues,” Dr. Kara Dodge, research scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, tells CapeCod.com.

This is fantastic news, indeed. Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered, and returning any individual to the oceans is a huge win for conservation.

For this specific rescue, Wildlife Sanctuary Director Emeritus Bob Prescott adds, “We wanted to keep it off the oysters and keep it from stranding somewhere we couldn’t rescue it. If it got away, there was no telling where it would strand next.”

Giant Leatherback Sea Turtle’s Cape Cod Rescue was ‘No Easy Feat’

And what a rescue it was. Both the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and New England Aquarium would enter the fray to assist. The organizations would both and assess the turtle’s health and help transport the giant sea turtle. After the leatherback was found to be alert and responsive, he/she was then on their way back home.

This sort of rescue is “no easy feat,” either, adds Kira Kasper, Stranding Biologist with the IFAW Marine Rescue Team on Cape Cod.

“There are absolutely a lot of safety hazards that we face going out into the field,” Kasper offers. Great care is taken in handling any marine life. But when the specimen is 600+ pounds, extra precaution is paramount; the stress of stranding and sheer strength the leatherback’s size grants them coming into play.

“We want to make sure that all of our team members are safe whenever we’re working with these animals in the field, because they are wild and capable of moving in ways that we might not be able to navigate away from,” Kasper continues. “Human safety is our priority, we want to make sure our responders are still able to continue rescuing animals.”

To complete the rescue safely, the conservation teams used a specialized cart designed for dolphins and similar marine life. Kasper says it comes in handy for far larger passengers like leatherback sea turtles, too.

Cape Cod is a “stranding hot spot” for leatherbacks, she says, so this rescue is one of many over the decades. After vitamin and anti-inflammatory injections, the leatherback would head back into the wild with a tracker. New England Aquarium will use a satellite to trace the turtle’s survival and migration.

Well done, crew!