A 600-pound leatherback sea turtle was rescued on Wednesday in Cape Cod Bay after it got tangled in a lobster buoy line, officials said.
Officers with the Massachusetts Environmental Police were on their way to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to conduct fixed gear inspections around 11 a.m. when they saw the struggling turtle off the coast of Manomet. They called on the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Animal Entanglement Response team for help, Environmental Police said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
The male turtle, whose shell was five feet long, was tangled in a rope that connected a lobster trap on the sea floor to a buoy at the surface. Environmental police were struggling to keep an eye on the turtle at first because it was repeatedly diving deep into the water after surfacing for air, dragging the fishing gear with it, Scott Landry, the director of the entanglement response team, said.
The rescue team almost never cuts the rope when disentangling sea turtles, Landry said. Instead, the team used a set of grappling hooks to pull the lobster trap upward. Doing so relieved some of the strain on the turtle, allowing it to swim to the surface and breathe more easily.
The team brought the turtle alongside the boat and began to unwind the rope, which had lacerated the turtle’s neck and flippers, but the turtle was in good enough condition that it was able to swim away safely after rescuers put an identification tag on its shoulder, Landry said.
“They’re quite resilient, and once they get disentangled, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be fine,” he said.
Each summer, there are about 25 known sea turtle entanglements in Massachusetts waters. Sea turtles made their annual return to the Cape Cod area last week, after spending the winter and spring in the Caribbean Sea and along the northern coast of South America, Landry said.
Lobster and gillnet gear are required to have a weak link attached to their buoy lines in order to help entangled marine animals free themselves, police said.