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 Summer 2017

Although the season had a late start, leatherbacks are here now in a big way! There are lots of jellyfish and other gelatinous organisms in the waters around Cape Cod, and the leatherbacks are gobbling them up. Although we're glad to see the leatherbacks here, our waters also mean trouble for them from boat strikes and entanglement in vertical line fishing gear. Please keep a close eye out for leatherbacks, which are black, often with white spots, and for loggerheads, which are tan/brown with yellow/orange around their heads and flippers. Both species sometimes swim at or just under the surface. Your small power boat could easily kill a loggerhead or a huge leatherback. If you see a free-swimming sea turtle please report it to us at seaturtlesightings.org or 1-888-SEA-TURT. And if you see an entangled sea turtle, please call the Center for Coastal Studies' hotline (800-900-3622) and stand by in your boat, if possible. Your attention on the water and your concern can help save these threatened and endangered species.

Leatherback Photo by J. Gwalthney, F/V Eileen K

~ leatherback photo by J. Gwalthney, F/V Eileen K.

Summer 2017

The 2017 sea turtle sightings season has begun! It's been a late start, probably due to cool weather causing a delayed start for the recreational boating season and a slow rise of ocean temperatures. But we've had our first reports of leatherbacks in Nantucket Sound and in Buzzards Bay, and a loggerhead off Westport, Massachusetts.

This year we're focusing increased attention on trying to prevent boat strikes. In September, 2016, we responded to two leatherbacks killed by boat strikes, one washed ashore on Nantucket and one in Mashpee, Massachusetts. Both were females which had been PIT (passive integrated transponder) tagged as they nested in previous years in tropical waters – one in Trinidad and one in Anguilla. It's extremely sad to lose any sea turtles as they feed in our waters, but it's an especially big loss when they are reproductive females. Sea Turtles, especially leatherbacks, are also vulnerable to entanglement and ingestion of plastic, but fatality from boat strikes can be reduced with increased boater attention and awareness. So now it's up to you boaters to be on the look-out for sea turtles. Please study the photos here on the website and familiarize yourself with what our four species might look like from your boat. Keep a sharp eye from the helm – autopilots don't see sea turtles – and remember that we share the water with many species of marine wildlife. It'll be your lucky day if you see a sea turtle, and please report it!

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
Report Online

1-888-SEA-TURT (1-888-732-8878)