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PROVINCETOWN — Marine wildlife officials yesterday reminded boaters that they share the water with large sea turtles that can be hard to spot.
Leatherback turtles are a federally listed endangered species. They can grow to seven-feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are migratory and populate Cape and Islands waters at this time of year eating jellyfish and spending time at the surface.
Several have already been hit, some fatally, by vessels in local waters this year. Boaters can avoid sea turtle collisions by proceeding with caution and posting lookouts watching for turtles in areas of relatively high concentration such as Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay.
A second, more frequent danger for sea turtles is entanglement in fishing, mooring and other vertical lines. Brian Sharpe, who leads the state's turtle disentanglement team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, said his team has freed 13 leatherbacks from lines this summer. Ten were still alive, he said.
With a 6½-foot wingspan, one wrong turn near a line can mean entanglement and possible death for these giants of the sea.
Sharpe said mariners should not try to free turtles because they are powerful animals that could injure a would-be rescuer. Plus, the Provincetown-based rescue team doesn't want a partially freed animal to swim off with entangled gear, Sharpe said. Trained responders can properly free entangled sea turtles, collect essential data, and tag turtles for scientific research, he said.
Marine wildlife officials ask boaters who spot an entangled turtle to call the Massachusetts Sea Turtle Disentanglement Hotline at 800-900-3622. Boaters can also call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 866-755-NOAA or hail the Coast Guard on Channel 16. If possible, boaters should remain at a safe distance and wait for a trained biologist to arrive.
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