Sea Turtle Sighting Hotline for Southern New England Boaters
1-888-SEA-TURT (1-888-732-8878) • Report Online

Sea Turtle Sighting Hotline • 888-732-8878

Seasonal Updates

Late Winter/Early Spring 2017

The 2016 sea turtle cold-stun season is now finished, although occasional dead turtles will wash onto beaches through early spring, 2017. The total number of cold-stunned sea turtles found on Massachusetts beaches in the 2016 season was the third largest on record, with 394 critically endangered Kemp's ridleys (70% found alive), 30 greens (63% found alive), 55 loggerheads (58% found alive) and one possible hybrid (found dead). Due to the efforts of many trained volunteer beach patrollers and drivers, as well as dedicated staff, the live turtles were handled according to strict protocols and transported to the New England Aquarium's marine animal rehab facility. There they received expert veterinary care and began the rehabilitation process leading to ultimate release into warm, southern waters.

Now is the "quiet" time for southern New England waters in terms of sea turtles. Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff are busy analyzing data, performing necropsies on cold-stunned sea turtles that washed in dead, and preparing for the live-sighting season to come. As you boaters "armchair" fish, sail or cruise, work on your boats, and think about spring launching into the waters you love, please keep sea turtles in mind. Make sure this hotline website and phone number are on your phone or tablet, and refresh your mental images of what our sea turtles look like in the water. Our earliest live sightings have been in April!

loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch

~ loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch.

November 2016

Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle Season
The cold-stunned season is starting "late" again this year, although with warming Gulf of Maine waters this may be the new "normal". The first cold-stun was picked up on October 25, but as of November 12 there have only been eight: five Kemp's ridley (one dead) and three live greens. The live turtles are taken to New England Aquarium's Quincy, MA facility, where their health is assessed and they undergo any necessary treatment and rehabilitation for later release further south. We expect many more juvenile Kemp's ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles to strand as their body temperatures drop to the point where they can't swim or eat and they wash ashore, hopefully alive, with onshore winds.

If you find a sea turtle on the beach at this time of year, please do the following:

  • Do not put the turtle back in the water — it won't survive
  • Move the turtle above the high tide line
  • Cover it with dry seaweed (to block the wind)
  • Mark the location with debris, such as vertical sticks or a bright piece of weighted- down plastic
  • If turtle is in Massachusetts call Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay 508-349-2615 ext. 6104
  • If turtle is in another state, call the NOAA Marine Animal Hotline 866-755-6622

Kemp's ridley photo by J. Gwalthney, F/V Eileen K

~ Kemp's ridley photo by J. Gwalthney,
F/V Eileen K

Late Summer 2016

Every year is interesting regarding sea turtles, and this year has proven to be no exception. Through July, sightings of live, free-swimming leatherbacks off New England were sparse, although loggerheads were reported in fairly typical numbers. Sea surface temperatures are extremely warm, and it may be that it has been too warm in at least some areas for lion's mane, one species of cool-water jellyfish that leatherbacks eat. Leatherback reports have picked up in August, however, as have reports of ctenophores (comb jellies) and sea nettles, two types of gelatinous organisms eaten by leatherbacks.

In the past few weeks we've been responding to more dead loggerheads washed up on beaches. At least two of these had wounds in their carapace (upper shell) from motorboat propellers. Others have shown no obvious cause of death. These may have been caught in gear, couldn't get to the surface to breathe, and drowned. Although we learn from each dead sea turtle as it is studied and recorded, we all would rather see them alive and healthy, swimming and feeding in our waters. So boaters, please keep an eye out for sea turtles, especially on boat transits across open bodies of water where it may be tempting to relax at the helm. The life of a sea turtle may depend on you. And if you do see a turtle, please report it here.

loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch

~ loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch.

May 2016

They're here! The first live sea turtle sighting reported in our waters for 2016 was May 24, off Gardner's Neck, in Mt. Hope Bay, Swansea, MA. A man fishing on a stone jetty watched as a "copper-brown with some yellow, 1 – 1.5 ft. diameter sea turtle" swam around at the surface for about five minutes. This very aptly describes a juvenile loggerhead. "It looked like it was hunting for food," the reporting party stated, which it probably was.

As the boating and recreational fishing season gets underway, please remember to watch for the four species of sea turtles which feed in our waters in the late spring, summer and early fall. Click on theTurtle Info page on this website to read about and see photos of these species. Often we find that if boaters have search images in mind while being out on the water, they are more likely to spot turtles basking or swimming at, or near, the surface. Remember that the leatherbacks can be as long as 8 – 10 ft., sometimes resembling a dark rock or an overturned dinghy, and the juvenile Kemp's ridleys can be as small as a dinner plate. And please remember that you share the water with these endangered species, and their lives may depend on your being watchful.

loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch

~ loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch.

Spring 2016

The 2015-2016 winter was busy, with the cold-stunned sea turtle event shifting later (start and finish), due to warmer ocean water temperatures. It was the second highest season yet for recorded numbers of cold-stunned sea turtles in Massachusetts — over 600. Thanks to massive efforts by staff and volunteers from MassAudubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, New England Aquarium, and other organizations, more than half of these cold-stunned sea turtles survived. Many have already been rehabilitated and released in southern waters, and some are still in rehab and will be released locally this summer when waters warm sufficiently. Cold–stunned turtles that died were necropsied by researchers to learn as much as possible from these endangered and threatened marine species.

We're ready for the 2016 season of live sea turtle sightings. As boaters prepare for the upcoming season, please remember that sea turtles will be out there, too. Their survival often depends on your vigilance in watching the water in your boat's path. Please keep in mind our Sea Turtle Sighting Hotline — report sightings either online (seaturtlesightings.org) or by phone (1-888-732-8878) — each sighting is important.

There is growing evidence that your live sighting reports may help us predict, and prepare for, the magnitude of the cold-stunned sea turtle season starting in late fall. We always appreciate your sharing photos with us, and we are especially looking for photos of the smaller juveniles that occur in our waters — Kemp's ridley and green sea turtles. Thank you for your help in the past, and we look forward to the first 2016 reports of live sea turtles off southern New England.

Kemp's ridley photo by J. Gwalthney, F/V Eileen K

~ Green Turtle photo by Krill Carson, NECWA.

October 2015

The 2015 sea turtle season has been another interesting one. There were fewer reports of leatherbacks than usual, with no reports of large, spread-out aggregations of leatherbacks which have been seen in some recent years. Reports of loggerheads were up. Data from stranded, dead loggerheads indicate that we are seeing more large individuals in our waters than in years past.

Although the recreational boating season is mostly over, we know that three of our four species, Kemp's ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles, are still here, "trapped" by the geography of Cape Cod and by the cold water north and east of the Cape. We are geared up for the 2015 "cold-stunned" sea turtle season. You can read more about this phenomenon and how the 2014 cold-stunned season broke all previous records.

Since three of our four species of sea turtles are federally listed as "endangered" and one as "threatened", each sighting is important. Look at the 2015 sighting maps to see where sea turtles were reported in 2015. Thanks to all of you who reported sea turtles, and we look forward to your help next year.

Kemp's ridley photo by J. Gwalthney, F/V Eileen K

~ Kemp's ridley photo by J. Gwalthney,
F/V Eileen K

August 2015

Sea turtle sightings got off to a rather slow start, but now are coming in steadily. So far, it seems to be the “year of the loggerhead”, as sighting reports of these hard-shelled sea turtles are higher than usual. Unfortunately, strandings are also steady, with sea turtle carcasses exhibiting wounds from either boat propellers or gear entanglement. Sea surface temperatures are high throughout southern New England coastal waters, and we expect sea turtles to be feeding in our area for quite some time. Sea turtles surface to breathe, but they also sometimes bask or swim at or just below the surface, so boater awareness is crucial for avoiding striking the turtles. Please continue reporting sightings, and thank you for spreading the word to other boaters.

Loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch

~ Loggerhead photo by Amy Warren, Newburyport Whale Watch

Spring 2015

Onshore winds of late fall/early winter, 2014, washed record numbers of cold-stunned sea turtles onto southern New England beaches, especially around Cape Cod Bay. More than 1200 sea turtles were stranded—mostly Kemp’s ridley. Through generosity and intensive efforts by staff and volunteers from many organizations, we’re hoping to return over 60% to the wild. Your sightings of live, free-swimming sea turtles in summer and fall, 2015, are more important than ever to help us better understand how sea turtles are using our waters. There is also some indication that opportunistic sightings of the hard-shelled species (loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s ridley) may help us predict and prepare for the 2015 cold-stunseason. Please report sea turtle sightings!

Snowy Cape cod image, courtesy NASA
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