Updated July 16
A leatherback sea turtle, estimated at more than 700 pounds, was rescued from a buoy line Sunday after its flipper got entangled in what is believed to be fishing gear, according to those involved in the dramatic rescue.
The entangled turtle was reported by fishermen 100 yards off Lambert’s Cove Beach Sunday at about 1:17 pm, Will White, an assistant harbormaster for Tisbury, wrote in an email. After picking up Andrew Jacobs, a natural resources technician with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker at Tashmoo Land, they located the fishermen, who had been keeping an eye on the turtle, at about 1:30 pm.
“The turtle was in distress, unable to swim away, as the buoy and line were still presumably attached to a mooring, and struggling to dive as the buoy was causing it to float,” White wrote.
The fishermen who called in the discovery to the Tisbury harbormaster (the right thing to do) waited nearby, making it easier for the harbormaster and Jacobs to locate the turtle.
“It was fantastic,” Jacobs told The Times Monday. It was Jacobs who reached over the side and cut the rope away from the turtle’s flipper while being careful to hold onto the buoy. What often happens when someone untrained cuts the line is they let it go, and while the turtle is free, the rope is still wrapped around the flipper. That didn’t happen in this case.
“That was just an awesome experience,” said Tisbury hHarbormaster John Crocker, who held the buoy while Jacobs did the cutting.
It wasn’t easy. The turtle was not a completely cooperative patient. “Hell, yeah [it was fighting back],” Crocker said. “It’s not going to lay there and say, ‘Please help me.’ It’s a wild animal — cornered essentially — and it’s trying to get away … You can’t blame it.”
In his email, White wrote, “The turtle had chafe marks in its skin from the rope, but did not appear to be disabled otherwise. [The] turtle gave a last wave of thanks and swam away. Great cheers went up from onlookers. We took some time to congratulate ourselves, then returned to the dock.”
In a serendipitous moment, Crocker was among many Island harbor officials who attended a marine animal workshop sponsored by the tribe a couple of months ago on how to deal with entanglements. He had the number to call on his office wall and inside the patrol boat. That’s how they got in touch with Jacobs so quickly.
Jacobs explained that the Island lacks enough trained individuals to answer the call when an animal is entangled, so the workshop was an important way to get the word out. The number to call in those situations is 866-755-6622, which is NOAA’s hotline for marine mammal and sea turtle strandings and entanglements, Jacobs said.
“That’s the most amazing thing,” Jacobs said. “John Crocker, had just joined us for this workshop … he was aware of how to deal with the situation and respond quickly with a positive outcome.”
Updated to correct the type of buoy and also with interviews of those involved, after first posting the story at 8:30 am July 15.