Turtle influx prompts advisory
Boaters warned of risks posed to endangered reptile
Federal officials are cautioning boaters in the waters off Massachusetts to keep a sharp lookout, because leatherback turtles, among the world's largest reptiles, have arrived in record numbers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued the warning in an attempt to protect the endangered animals, which can grow to be 6 1/2 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds.
The turtles have been spotted swimming in Nantucket and Vineyard sounds.
Reports of dead, stranded, or injured turtles are also setting records.
"It is probably the second-busiest year in the 20 to 30 years that I have been watching the leatherback," said Bob Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
He said people are reporting seeing 10 to 12 of the endangered animals at one time, which is "unheard-of in Massachusetts."
The reason for the leatherback explosion is an increase in the jellyfish population, said Prescott.
The leatherback migrates through Massachusetts waters each year, but is staying longer this year because there are more jellyfish on which to feed.
Prescott said the reptiles are mostly concentrated to the south of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, which means they are out of major shipping lanes, but they have been sighted elsewhere, as well, and it is important for boaters to be careful.
The turtles can be killed when they are struck by a boat's propellers or caught in fishing lines.
The Coast Guard has been broadcasting regular reminders to boaters asking them to use caution and reduce speeds in areas where turtles might be floating.
"It is an interesting animal to see," said Prescott. "It is prime time to see them, and it is a fun activity to go slow and see them."
According to NOAA, there are several things boaters should remember when cruising near the turtles.
They should give turtles space, put the engine in neutral once a turtle is spotted, and let it pass.
Officials also urged people to watch their lines and bait at all times to avoid entanglement, wear polarized sunglasses so it is easier to see the creatures in the water, and use caution when approaching an area with large numbers of jellyfish.