(See video link below for more info)
I just got off the phone with an individual at the entanglement hot line 800 900 3622 and informed him of an incident that involved disentangling an entangled leatherback turtle.
This occurred today at approximately 12:40 PM within 150m of the coordinates 41.522, 70.715. This is an area approximately 0.25 mi beyond the west entrance to Woods Hole Passage as one turns to parallel Naushon Island. We were preparing to take some plankton samples. The sea conditions were flat calm, with no discernable breeze. There was a line of lobster buoys running along the same line and as we approached the second line we noticed a disturbance at the surface. I initially suspected a seal as I saw the head but it turned out to be the leatherback.
I look a short video clip as I steered toward it. As the video shows, it did not appear too active as we approached but I knew it was alive based on the earlier motion we had seen. As we approached I saw a large shape move out from under the animal and as it swam away I noted it appeared to be a shark between 3-4 feet long. I am familiar with our local sharks and this one had the color I would associate with a sand tiger but the glimpse I got of the shape suggested a Carcharhinid, perhaps a brown shark.
The ropes appeared to be very tightly wound around the flippers and neck and, initially we didn't realize that the animal was entangled in two systems. The primary entanglement was a blue polypropylene line attached to an orange buoy with a dark stripe that appears to bear the numbers 003407 or 008407 (see photo). This appears to have subsequently entangled with a standing lobster buoy/trap which was attached with a white nylon line. The white line appeared to be around the turtle or blue line but not as seriously as the blue line around the animal.
We didn't realize there was an entanglement hotline until we returned back to Woods Hole and looked into the matter. At the time, we felt the situation was dire enough and the chance of the turtle escaping and subsequently dying was high enough, that we proceeded to disentangle it. I may also have been motivated by a run-in with a dead and decomposing individual last year in Great Harbor which was upsetting and I did not wish to witness another dead leatherback. I had a small rigging knife, and while my staffmember, Bill Grossman, held the buoys and steadied the turtle, I carefully began to cut the lines. I nearly always was able to get the knife under the line blade-side up, so as to not risk injuring the turtle. The line was very tight, particularly around the neck and it was wedged into seams around both the neck and flippers. It took us approximately 15 minutes to clear the lines. At one point, as is shown briefly in the video, we had to rotate the turtle on its back to try to separate the line. It appeared to be less active when we did this and we worried it was tightening the lines around its neck. We were able, however, to clear nearly all line from the turtle. As one flipper was freed, it actively began to thrash and we worked to unwind the remaining lines. One small piece appeared to be hanging on as the animal eventually got clear and sped away. I'm confident that this remaining piece was cut and only draped around the flipper and perhaps caught in a wedge at the base. The turtle appeared strong in its departure and maintained a proper angle and attitude.
The video is available on my dropbox at the URL below.
The photo included here shows the buoy that was most seriously wrapped around the animal. The yellow buoy with the orange stripe was the one tied to a lobster trap on the bottom and was the same as the other buoys in the line we had been following. It is out opinion that the turtle ran into this stationary buoy and then remained stuck there until we arrived.
I'm happy to answer any additional questions. In the future we know that the network hotline exists and that there are people who can handle the matter. We would be interested in any training that we might receive to better handle the situation. Our staff are on the water nearly every day and this time of year for the larger part of every work day. We know most of the local vertebrates and invertebrates and would certainly be willing to serve as additional eyes on the water.
with best wishes,
Bottom half of shell and hind flippers out of the water.
--found at the Chattanooga aquarium
--largest turtle in the world & one of the largest reptiles
--only sea turtle that doesn't have a hard, bony shell
--can way up to 2,000 pounds for adults
--mainly black shell with pinkish -white coloring on their belly
--eat soft-bodied animals (jellyfish & salps)
Leatherback sea turtle observed by professional marine naturalist Isadore (Izzy) Szczepaniak to Leatherback Watch Program manager Dr. Chris Pincetich. Sighting was 9/8/2013 and sighting shared 9/13/2013
This leatherback was seen in Monterey Bay alongside a boat!
Two leatherbacks were seen munching on brown sea nettle jellyfish less than half a mile from each other in Monterey Bay!
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), sometimes called the lute turtle, is the largest of all living turtles (as well as the largest extant sea turtle) and is the fourth largest modern reptile behind three crocodilians. It is the only living species in the genus Dermochelys. It can easily be differentiated from other modern sea turtles by its lack of a bony shell. Instead, its carapace is covered by skin and oily flesh. Dermochelys coriacea is...