Metro

State officials ask boaters to be wary of leatherback sea turtles

Sightings of leatherback sea turtles have been reported around Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound, and Nantucket Sound, prompting state marine biologists to urge boaters and commercial fishermen to be on the lookout for this endangered species.

Leatherback sea turtles migrate to Massachusetts waters from June through October to feed on jellyfish, but are often at risk of getting entangled in buoy lines or struck by vessels, according to a statement from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

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Recently, several boaters have performed disentanglements on their own, which is illegal and unsafe for both the boater and the turtle. Untrained disentanglements can result in serious injury to the animal and to those involved.

The global population of leatherback turtles is estimated at 26,000 to 43,000 nesting females annually, a decline from the 115,000 estimated in 1980. Leatherbacks can grow from five to seven feet long and can weigh between 500 to 2,000 pounds.

Officials asked boaters to call the 24-hour Marine Animal Disentanglement Hotline if they see an entangled sea turtle or whale at 800-900-3622 and remain at a safe distance until help arrives. Boaters can also call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 866-755-NOAA or the Coast Guard.

Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at sarah.mattero@globe.com.
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