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Dead adult leatherback turtle is found on beach in Falmouth

By Amanda Cedrone
Globe Correspondent / July 28, 2011

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A dead adult leatherback turtle washed up on a Falmouth beach this week, but despite the propeller strikes on its underside, officials said they are not sure what killed the endangered reptile.

The turtle washed up in front of the Tides Motel on Falmouth Harbor about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and a necropsy performed yesterday determined that the animal had been dead for five to six days, said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium.

Staff from the aquarium in Boston took the turtle to their animal care center in Quincy about 1:30 p.m. yesterday for the necropsy.

It took six workers to lift the turtle, said Robert Griffin, assistant Falmouth harbormaster.

The turtle weighed 440 pounds and had four propeller strikes on its underside, LaCasse said.

While it is possible that the propeller strikes occurred after the turtle died, one of the most common causes of leatherback turtle deaths is boat collisions, LaCasse said.

The turtles are common in waters off Cape Cod from mid-June to early July, as they migrate up the East Coast to the Gulf of Maine, where they will forage on jellyfish, he said. Boating season begins July 1.

“We really need boaters in the areas south of Cape Cod to keep close bow watches to avoid striking any type of marine wild life,’’ LaCasse said.

Turtles can also get trapped in things such as mooring lines and lobster pots.

“It’s been a pretty good season so far in terms of boating mortalities,’’ LaCasse said. “We’ve only had about two.’’

The harbormaster’s office received reports of a turtle floating off Buoy 17 in Falmouth Harbor Saturday, but crews were unable to locate the creature.

Leatherback sea turtles are the only species of sea turtle without a hard shell, hence their name.

They are one of the world’s largest sea turtles and usually weigh between 500 and 600 pounds, but can weigh much more.

The world record for a leatherback turtle is 1 ton.