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Why Are Dead Leatherback Sea Turtles Washing Ashore Off Mass.?

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Dead leatherback turtles are washing ashore in Massachusetts.

Dead leatherback turtles are washing ashore in Massachusetts.

WBZ-TV's Bill Shields Bill Shields
Bill Shields is a general assignment reporter for WBZ-TV News. He...
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QUINCY (CBS) – It’s a troubling sight: giant, endangered turtles turning up dead on the Massachusetts coast.

Five leatherback turtles, a critically endangered species, have been found dead in the last two weeks.

“The mortalities traditionally in Massachusetts come from boat strikes. The irony is that we’re not talking about ships… we’re talking about the recreational guy there with a 24-foot boat…with an on-board engine,” said Tony LaCasse of the New England Aquarium

In Nantucket Sound, scientists are capturing leatherbacks and then tagging the up-to-1,000-pound creatures, trying to learn more about their habits.

WBZ-TV’s Bill Shields reports.

“And we also do health assessments at New England Aquarium, and we also take tissue samples for a number of different studies including genetics and a foraging study so we can figure out what they’re eating,” said Kara Dodge of the New England Aquarium.

Dodge is considered one of the foremost authorities on Atlantic leatherbacks.

“Well, they’re absolutely fascinating. They’re the only member of their family still in existence, and they are amazing navigators,” said Dodge.

These huge turtles travel from New England all the way to Panama, but their numbers are dwindling.

“Three years ago we had a disastrous summer: we had over 30 leatherback sea turtles killed in Massachusetts waters, and most of them all were boat strikes,” said LaCasse.

Because leatherbacks don’t really hear that well and their vision is straight ahead, they don’t get out of the way of boats very well.

Leatherbacks find their way to the waters off New England due to the large population of jellyfish, which is among the turtle’s favorite foods. The large turtles don’t typically leave New England waters until mid-October.

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