Majestic 400-Pound Leatherback Turtle Killed in Cape Cod Bay
An autopsy of a 400-pound leatherback sea turtle first spotted floating in Cape Cod Bay revealed a grim demise for the burly reptile. The bloated corpse of the endangered animal washed up on a beach near Barnstable on Sunday and was promptly transported to the New England Aquarium’s turtle treatment facility in Quincy.
When researchers examined the specimen, they found gashes and abrasions across the animal’s front flippers, indicating that at some point it was tangled up in rope, perhaps from an anchor or lobster trap.
Upon closer inspection of X-rays, the team, led by head veterinarian Charles Innis, noticed the turtle was also recovering from extensive fractures to its shell and vertebrae.
“Remarkably, these injuries had been healing fairly well over the past several months,” noted a statement from the aquarium.
The team determined that the turtle was likely hit by a boat earlier this summer and had managed to continue foraging in the nutrient-rich waters of Cape Cod.
As if being hit by a boat and slashed with rope wasn’t bad enough, the researchers found several pieces of trash lodged in the turtle’s stomach, including a sandwich bag, a three-foot plastic sheath, and a wrapper from a Werther’s Original, every grandparent’s go-to treat.
“Despite the size of these items, they had not yet caused a full intestinal blockage which could have eventually killed the animal,” the aquarium noted.
Leatherback turtles are a critically endangered species whose numbers “have seriously declined during the last century as a result of intense egg collection and fisheries bycatch,” according to the World Wildlife Federation.
This particular animal was likely visiting the Cape for the summer and fall. November is a busy season for the aquarium’s turtle team. Last year, hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded along the shores of the Cape. Many were rescued and revived, but dozens died.
The team that examined this particular juvenile leatherback turtle said they could not recall seeing a trifecta of “human-caused hazards” inflict so much damage on a single animal.