Rescue effort saves stranded 600-lb leatherback sea turtle


Organizations join together to save animal after it strands on Cape Cod

Crowd of onlookers on a beach watching leatherback turtle enter the water
The leatherback returns to the ocean in Provincetown. The response took place under U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit #ES69328D. CREDIT: IFAW

PROVINCETOWN, MASS. (Oct. 12, 2021) – A leatherback sea turtle is back in the ocean after three local organizations joined together to save the massive animal that stranded on Cape Cod.


On Sunday, Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary responded to a report of a live leatherback on a mudflat along the Herring River in Wellfleet. Bob Prescott, director emeritus for Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, says he and volunteers worked to keep the leatherback from drifting with the quickly incoming tide.

“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,” Prescott said.

The organization contacted colleagues at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the New England Aquarium to help rescue the large turtle, which is estimated to be about five feet long and 600 pounds. The turtle, an adult male, was alert and responsive.

“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,” said Kira Kasper, a biologist for the Marine Mammal Rescue & Research program at IFAW. “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.”

Responders agreed to relocate and release the turtle, transferring it to Herring Cove in Provincetown where Rescue and Animal Health staff from the Aquarium conducted a health assessment.

“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,” said Dr. Charles Innis, director of animal health at the New England Aquarium.

Dr. Innis analyzed a blood sample to assess the turtle’s health and gave the turtle injections of vitamins and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Aquarium staff then placed small identification tags—microchip and metal band—on the turtle along with acoustic and satellite tags. The turtle was then released back into the ocean, with a crowd looking on and cheering the turtle.

The Aquarium is tracking the turtle with a satellite “pop-up” tag that will determine if it survives over the next 30 days. The acoustic tag will monitor the turtle’s migration patterns over the next five to 10 years.

“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,” said Dr. Kara Dodge, research scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.

This has been a busy week for leatherback rescues. On Thursday, Oct. 7, an Aquarium team, led by Dr. Innis and Dr. Dodge, responded to a leatherback turtle entangled in fishing gear off Cape Cod. The female turtle was successfully evaluated, disentangled and outfitted with two electronic tags that will allow researchers to assess survivorship over the next 30 days and track her migration patterns. Leatherbacks are among the most highly migratory animals on earth, traveling about 10,000 miles or more a year. The turtles will be in Massachusetts waters through the month of October. Any boaters who spot an entangled leatherback turtle are asked to please call the Center for Coastal Studies hotline at 1-800-900-3622 or hail the U.S. Coast Guard on channel 16.


About the International Fund for Animal Welfare

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animal and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at 

About Mass Audubon

Mass Audubon protects more than 38,000 acres of land throughout Massachusetts, saving birds and other wildlife, and making nature accessible to all. As Massachusetts’ largest nature conservation nonprofit, we welcome more than a half million visitors a year to our wildlife sanctuaries and 20 nature centers. Mass Audubon is a nationally recognized environmental education leader, offering thousands of camp, school, and adult programs that get over 225,000 kids and adults outdoors every year. With more than 135,000 members and supporters, we advocate on Beacon Hill and beyond, and conduct conservation research to preserve the natural heritage of our beautiful state for today’s and future generations. We welcome you to explore a nearby sanctuary, find inspiration, and get involved. Learn how at  

About the New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium is a global leader in marine science and conservation, working to safeguard ocean animals and habitats. With more than 1.3 million visitors a year, the Aquarium is one of the premier visitor attractions in Boston and a major public education resource for the region. The Aquarium’s research and rescue efforts build on the institution’s 50-year legacy of protecting the blue planet and advocating for vital and vibrant oceans. In the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, scientists conduct applied marine research that informs ocean management, policy, and industry practices, and contributes to the innovation of new technologies. Through its Sea Turtle Rescue Program, the Aquarium helps protect critically endangered and threatened sea turtle populations through rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts.  



Pam Bechtold Snyder, New England Aquarium — 617-686-5068;

Stacey Hedman, IFAW – 508-737-2558;

Jenette Kerr, Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary – 671-721-2847;