Loggerhead turtle found in Westport died from a boat propeller strike.

WESTPORT — A dead loggerhead turtle that washed up on Gooseberry Island recently was fatally injured when it was struck by a boat propeller, according to Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. 

It was the fifth turtle to die from such injuries in July – a high number according to Wellfleet Bay.

“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, marketing and communications director at Wellfleet Bay. 

The other four turtles were discovered in Harwich, West Falmouth, Pocasset, and Scituate, Kerr noted. 

The dead turtles from boating strikes prompted Mass Audubon to issue a news release urging boaters to be on alert for sea turtles in southeastern Massachusetts waters after the five loggerhead sea turtles were killed by vessel strikes in the past month. 

In the press release, Wellfleet Bay sea turtle stranding coordinator Karen Dourdeville said the dead turtles were sub-adults that ranged in age from approximately 12 to 25 years and had suffered injuries consistent with vessel strikes, one of the leading causes of sea turtle mortality. 

The loggerhead that washed up on Gooseberry Island was about 15 years old with an approximately 18-inch long upper shell, Dourdeville said. The turtle was badly decomposed, but the damage to the shell was consistent with being hit by a boat propeller, she said.

When asked what accounted for the high number of the turtle deaths from boat strikes in July, Dourdeville said, “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.” 

Related: ‘Everyone is buying boats’ during the pandemic, and it’s causing a short supply

Is it large commercial fishing vessels that are hitting the turtles or smaller recreational boats? 

“It’s difficult to ascribe exact size of vessel or type of propeller to fatal wounds from vessel strikes,” Dourdeville said. “Of the fatalities so far this year, however, the wounds are indicative of smaller power vessels, so probably recreational.” 

The loggerhead turtles aren’t always that easy to spot when boating through waters.  

“Loggerheads are brown, often with yellow or orange highlights on their head and flippers. At the surface, they can look like a patch of floating brown seaweed,” Dourdeville said. 

Joining the loggerheads are the endangered leatherback turtles this time of year.  

“Leatherbacks are also very vulnerable to vessel strikes,” Dourdeville said. As she described, they raise their huge head at the surface and it can look like and algae-covered buoy. 

“The giant — up to 8 feet long — leatherbacks are just starting to be seen in our waters for the season. Leatherbacks are an endangered species, and boaters need to be careful to avoid striking them. They are generally dark gray or black, with fore-and-aft ridges along their upper shell,” Dourdeville said.  

Wellfleet Bay operates a reporting website and hotline for sea turtle sightings. Boaters can report all sea turtle sightings on the website, seaturtlesightings.org, or by calling 1-888-SEA-TURT (1-888-732-8878). 

Standard-Times digital producer Linda Roy can be reached at lroy@s-t.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @LindaRoy_SCT. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times.



- Advertisement -