'Unusually High' Numbers of Threatened Turtles Being Killed by Boats in Massachusetts

An "unusually high" number of loggerhead turtles have been killed in collisions with sea vessels in the waters off the coast of Massachusetts in recent weeks.

Five dead loggerheads were found at sites in Harwich, West Falmouth, Pocasset, Scituate and, most recently, in Gooseberry Island in July alone, prompting the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to issue a plea for boaters to be more alert on the water.

"If you're a boater or you know one please tell them to be on the look-out for sea turtles in our waters! In just the past few weeks, we've responded to 5 dead loggerheads with clear vessel-strike wounds," the sanctuary wrote in a post on Facebook last week.

"Sea turtles often bask on the water's surface but can be hard to see from a boat. So we're urging boaters not to use auto-pilot and to be sure they keep their eyes ahead of their vessels."

Loggerhead turtles are listed as threatened in the U.S., which means that they are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. It is, therefore, illegal to harm, harass, or kill loggerheads, along with their eggs. Importing, selling, and transporting them is also illegal.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife counts boat strikes as one of the greatest threats to loggerhead turtles.

"In just the last three weeks, we've responded to an unusually high number of dead loggerheads with clear injuries from vessel strikes," said Jenette Kerr, Wellfleet Bay's marketing and communications director according to South Coast Today.

The wildlife sanctuary's sea turtle stranding coordinator, Karen Dourdeville, said that each of the dead loggerheads' wounds were consistent with impacts from small vessels, rather than large, commercial fishing boats.

"We assume that with better boating weather more boaters are out on the water. We also know that there are many new boaters on the water this year, as boat purchases during the COVID-19 lockdowns were very high," she said.

According to the FWC, loggerheads reach sexual maturity at approximately 35 years old, which means that all of the deceased animals that were found in July were sub-adults.

The loggerhead that was found at Gooseberry Island had a shell measuring 18 inches in length, and was estimated at 15 years old. The others were between 12 years old and 25 years old.

A fully-grown loggerhead can exceed 3.5 feet in length and weigh in at more than 400 pounds.

Last week, a 400-pound green sea turtle was found dead on a Florida beach, with a puncture wound to its head.

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A stock image shows a threatened loggerhead sea turtle. Five sub-adult loggerheads were found dead off the coast of Massachusetts in July 2021. Getty Images