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Leatherback turtle freed from fishing gear off Cape

A large leatherback sea turtle was rescued Sunday after his left flipper was caught in fishing gear off Cape Cod, animal rescuers said.

Fishermen spotted the turtle off the Sandy Neck section of Barnstable, said Scott Landry, director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The response team was able to release the turtle in good condition.

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Landry said the turtle’s left flipper was tangled in fishing gear, which is made of strong, durable rope. The animal probably became entangled at night, and was not there for very long, he said.

“When leatherbacks are tangled, they are not likely to die immediately . . . but they are big enough that they can carry the fishing gear away in its entirety,” Landry said.

Leatherback sea turtles tend to migrate toward Cape Cod from the Caribbean to hunt jellyfish during the summer, making such entanglements typical for this time of year, according to Landry.

The entanglement response team has received a total of six reports of tangled animals in the Cape Cod region this season, Landry said. This is the first from Cape Cod Bay, however.

Landry said there has been a significant increase in animal entanglements in the Cape region in the last year. “A few years ago we averaged about 10 cases of entangled leatherbacks a year,” he said. “Last year we encountered 50. . . . We do not know the exact reason behind this increase, but it could be due to the rising water temperatures in Cape Cod.”

Adult leatherbacks are the largest living turtle species in the world, and average about 500 to 600 pounds, Landry added.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, the population of leatherbacks is decreasing and they are considered “vulnerable” to endangerment.

Trisha Thadani can be reached at trisha.thadani@globe.com.
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