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What Should You Do if You Encounter an Entangled Sea Turtle or Marine Mammal?

North Atlantic right whales. Photo credit: NOAA

Leatherback Sea turtle. Photo credit: NOAA_Southeast Region

The Northeast (Maine to North Carolina) is home to a variety of marine animals, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and  five species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill (rare visitor), Kemp’s ridley, and, most commonly, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. There is a chance you could encounter one of these animals, especially during summer months when more people are out on the water. The best thing to do if you find an animal in trouble is to alert NOAA Fisheries. We can send trained personnel to help rescue the animal. 

“When we spotted a sea turtle in trouble over the 4th of July weekend, our first impulse was to do what we could to help free the animal.  But we realize that the action we took was pretty risky, these are large powerful animals,” said Robert Kennedy, Jr. “For both the animal and your own safety, we encourage any member of the public who encounters an entangled sea turtle or marine mammal to call NOAA Fisheries’ disentanglement hotline; they have trained experts who can assist the animal. It’s also a good idea to stand by until the stranding responders arrive so you can help them more easily locate the animal.”

Another reason not to get too close is because several whale species, including right, fin and humpback whales and all sea turtles in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act and it is illegal to handle an endangered or a protected species. Populations of listed species have been reduced due to many causes, including hunting, destruction of habitat, vessel strikes, capture in fishing gear and for sea turtles harvesting of their eggs. In order to recover these species, it is important to reduce serious injury and deaths due to human activities. Whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Risks Due to Entanglements

Sea turtles and marine mammals often occur in the same areas as fishing effort and can be captured in a wide range of gears, including, dredges, trawls, gillnets, pot/traps and hook and line gear.  Vertical lines (the fishing line that extends from the surface buoy to connect traps/pots that lie on the seafloor) and gillnets are especially problematic. In 2012, NOAA Fisheries documented 44 sea turtle and 42 large whale entanglements.  It is likely that more animals were entangled but went unreported. This year sea turtle entanglements appear to be up. So far in 2013, 22 entanglements have occurred in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. During the same timeframe last year, there were only 8 reported entanglements. Typically most sea turtle entanglements tend to occur from August through September. For large whales, so far this year we’ve had 4 reported entanglements.

While it is natural for you to want to help an animal in distress, the best thing you can do is to promptly contact our Northeast Region Hotline: 1-866-755-NOAA (6622). We coordinate a network of trained responders that can be sent to the site to disentangle the animal. If at all possible, it is helpful if you can stand by the animal until our responder arrives to ensure that it can be relocated.

For additional information, contact Kate Sampson (sea turtles) at (978) 282-8470 or email kate.sampson@noaa.gov, Mendy Garron (seals, dolphins and porpoises) (978) 282-8478 or email Mendy.Garron@noaa.gov, Jamison Smith (whales) 978-281-3336 or email Jamison.Smith@noaa.gov. Click here to learn more about our sea turtle disentanglement effort.  Click here for more information on our Large Whale Disentanglement Program.

If you encounter an entangled sea turtle or marine mammal,

please contact 

NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Region Hotline immediately.

1-866-755-NOAA (6622)

Thank you!