600-Lb. Sea Turtle Stranded in Cape Cod Rescued and Returned to the Open Ocean

The Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, New England Aquarium, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare worked together to return the massive leatherback sea turtle to safe waters

Leatherback rescue
Photo: IFAW

A gentle ocean-dwelling giant has returned to the sea unscathed thanks to the dedicated work of three organizations.

According to a release from the New England Aquarium, a 600-lb. leatherback sea turtle stranded itself on a mudflat in Cape Cod waters on October 10.

The Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary responded to the call about the animal in need first. Their rescuers arrived and went to work keeping the sea turtle safe until it could be moved.

"We wanted to keep it off the oysters and keep it from stranding somewhere we couldn't rescue it. If it got away, there was no telling where it would strand next," Bob Prescott, director emeritus for Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said in a statement.

The sanctuary reached out to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the New England Aquarium for assistance rescuing the five-foot-long male leatherback sea turtle.

Leatherback rescue
New England Aquarium

Both IFAW and New England Aquarium were quick to help when they heard there was a turtle in need, bringing out the heavy-duty equipment to ensure a successful rescue.

"Our agencies work side-by-side on these shores, rescuing and protecting local species, so we jumped at the chance to help with responders, equipment, and transportation," Kira Kasper, a biologist for the Marine Mammal Rescue & Research program at IFAW, said. "To safely move a stranded turtle this large, our specially designed heavy-duty transport cart, stretchers, and mats were ideal — originally designed by IFAW for moving dolphins and other small whales."

With the tools they needed on hand, the rescuers moved the turtle to a safer waterside location for a health assessment by experts from the New England Aquarium.

"Our initial evaluation indicated that the turtle was very strong and in good body condition, and this helped us to decide that it was a good candidate for release," Dr. Charles Innis, the director of animal health at the New England Aquarium, said.

Leatherback rescue
New England Aquarium

Before releasing the sea turtle back into the open ocean, the New England Aquarium gave the animal injections of vitamins and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. The facility's staff placed small identification tags on the massive creature. Now, they can keep track of the turtle and learn more from him in the future.

After this check-up, the turtle returned to the water with a crowd of new fans cheering him on.

"When working with stranded sea turtles in New England, it's a rarity to have a turtle that is in such good condition. We suspect this leatherback got disoriented in the tidal flats of Wellfleet, and we feel optimistic that it will survive, thanks to the collective rescue efforts of this fantastic group of colleagues," Dr. Kara Dodge, a research scientist at the aquarium's Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, said.

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