Coast Guard rescues entangled turtle

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A screen capture from a U.S. Coast Guard video of a sea turtle being rescued.

A Coast Guard crew from Station Menemsha, Bret Stearns, director of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Natural Resources Department, and a benevolent, quick thinking fisherman, combined to rescue a leatherback sea turtle Sunday afternoon after it became entangled in a lobster pot off of Cuttyhunk.

On Monday, Mr. Stearns told The Times that the fisherman, whose identity is not known, was key to the successful disentanglement, because he called the Center for Coastal Studies Hotline number — 800-900-3622.

“It’s not a good idea try to disentangle them yourself,” he said. “If you don’t do it right, you can leave them with line or a float still attached.  The goal is not to cut any line, which is what untrained people often do.” Mr. Stearns said he and all members of his department are trained in turtle disentanglement, which is taught by the Center for Coastal Studies.

After the call was received by the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, at about 12:30 p.m., they called Mr. Stearns, who was driving to the MV Arena to drop his son off for hockey practice.

Then the Coast Guard jumped in.

“They were out on another call, zipped in picked me up, took me out there quickly,” he said. “It was critical to have enough manpower. When you’re dealing with animal that big you need help.” Coast Guard personnel are also trained in turtle disentanglement. 

Mr. Stearns said it took over an hour to disentangle the large turtle. “It took us three attempts to free it,” he said. “He went down three times and held his breath for 18 minutes one of the times. He was tethered to a line of 10 pots so we knew he was going to come up sooner or later.”

“It was really key that the fisherman called the Center for Coastal Studies Hotline and that he took a good chunk of his day to stay with the turtle,” Mr. Stearns said. “That really helped us get to the animal quicker.” 

Mr. Sterns also gave kudos to the Coast Guard crew — Boatswain’s Mate Joe Queen, Boatswain’s Mate Travis Vondessonneck, Seaman David Galan and Machinery Technician Shaquille Reed — for their superior seamanship. “The even tied the rope back on the pots so the fisherman didn’t lose his equipment,” he said. 

Sea turtle entanglements are not rare occurrences in Vineyard waters. Mr. Sterns said he was involved in a disentanglement operation three weeks ago. He urged all boaters to have the turtle disentanglement hotline, 800-900-3622, on their phones and/or on their watercraft.

See a video of the rescue here.