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Rescuing A 500+ Pound Entangled Leatherback Turtle Off Cape Cod, MA

Ryan Collins

During the summer of 2018 I stumbled across (and later untangled) a massive leatherback turtle that was entangled in a lobster pot line inside Cape Cod Bay.

It was early September and I was motoring along in my boat, when I noticed a lobster buoy that was getting pulled under. My initial thought was "Wow the current must be strong today!" 

Yet upon closer inspection I saw a huge dark mass beneath the water. Moments later an enormous head appeared next to the colorful lobster buoy. It was a leatherback sea turtle, and a pretty big one at that!


Sometimes when you find an entangled turtle, it is too late, and the turtle has already died from exhaustion and drowned. However this turtle was still strong and healthy looking, so I knew there was a high likelihood of being able to save him.

I approached the turtle to get a closer look at the situation. In the clear water and with the aid of the bright sunshine above, I could actually see fish swimming around the turtle. They weren't attached to the turtle but they were following close by, apparently using the turtle as a form of cover. 

My friend Jeff then came over to the scene and tossed a small epoxy jig into the water. These small fish went crazy for the jig and immediately latched on, providing Jeff with a pretty good fight - and man were they pretty looking!

No matter how hard I tried, I was not having any success untangling the turtle. Each time I approached the turtle he would dive down, dragging the lobster buoy underwater. Finally I decided to call in the experts.

The Provincetown Center For Coastal Studies

If you come across an entangled sea turtle off Cape Cod, then the best thing you can do is give the Provincetown Center For Coastal Studies a call at 800-900-3622. These folks have all the right equipment and experience to rescue the turtle quickly and easily.

I got in contact with Maria, who works for the center, and she asked if I would standy-by with the turtle until her crew could arrive on scene. It was about an 18 mile ride from Provincetown to get to the turtle, so I agreed that yes I would happily remain on scene with the turtle and make sure nothing happened to him.

The team arrived within the hour and immediately got to work. I captured the entire experience on video (including some cool underwater shots of the turtle) which you can watch by clicking play below!

In Conclusion

You just never know what you may encounter when you go fishing off Cape Cod. In years past I have stumbled across stranded whales, dolphins, great white sharks and even this manatee!

With the Cape's unique geographic structure, the land mass of the Cape itself sticks out into the Atlantic, attracting and "catching" all sorts of interesting creatures in its bays, harbors and along its many beaches and shoals. 

As I like to often say, catching fish is just a bonus here on Cape Cod, and being able to help rescue this entangled leatherback sea turtle is just another fine example of that saying.

Tight lines! šŸŽ£

What do you think?

Let me know by commenting below.

  1. Great work by some dedicated people ! Ryan your graciousness to stick around and start the rescue effort is exemplary ! I came across an Ocean Sunfish stranded on a sandbar near a channel some summers ago and notified the rescue crew from Buzzards Bay. A successful result too šŸ™‚

    1. Great to hear about your successful mola release!

      Always nice to be able to help out when we can.

  2. Very nice! Glad you could help out that turtle! 2 weeks ago I had walked out to Stage Harbor light. It was a beautiful morning, I saw the sun come up and fished the incoming for a short time. When the tide went slack I sat down on a convenient log and had a snack. It was so peaceful and quiet. After a few minutes of sitting quietly, I looked to my right and there was a beautiful deer about 20 yards away from me. She was just staring at me! She walked a little closer and then closer, I just stayed quiet and put on the video mode on my camera. She stayed for a few minutes and then lept off. It was a sweet meeting! You never know what you’ll come across when your out fishing!

    1. That sounds magical Leslie! Awesome encounter!

  3. Awesome … would love to see a leatherback up close and personal. I’ve snorkeled with Green Turtles in Hawaii and Hawksbills in the Virgin Islands, and found Loggerhead Hatchlings on Hilton Head while jogging the beach … sea turtles are magnificent creatures

    1. They definitely are magnificent creatures! That must of been real cool snorkeling with them.

      Supposedly there is a turtle hatch where we stay in Costa Rica too. I’m not sure when they hatch, but maybe we will get lucky and see a few when we are down there this January. Will keep you posted!


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