Giant Sea Turtle Dies After Ingesting Plastic, Sustaining Injury

A leatherback sea turtle has died after ingesting a piece of plastic and suffering a major entanglement injury, the New England Aquarium said in a statement Saturday.

According to the aquarium, the 420 pound turtle had become stranded on Cape Cod on Halloween morning. The turtle's cause of death was due in part to ingesting an 11 inch by 5 inch piece of plastic as well as suffering a major entanglement injury.

The female turtle was admitted to the aquarium's sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts after she was discovered. She had a gaping wound where her right front flipper attached to her shell. The tissue in the area, the aquarium says, was infected.

A team of veterinarians and biologists worked on the turtle overnight, but she succumbed to her injuries the next morning.

The giant, black, soft-shelled turtles frequent New England waters in the summer and fall to feed on jellyfish. Unfortunately, they often mistake plastic materials in the water for jellyfish, the aquarium said.

The endangered sea turtles suffer many deaths in the region each year from entanglements in vertical ropes, strikes from recreational boats and plastic ingestion, the aquarium said.

The aquarium is partnering with other stakeholders and conducting research to design more turtle and whale friendly fishing gear. The goal is to one day have rope-less fishing.

According to the aquarium, 220 endangered leatherbacks have been entangled in vertical marine ropes off of Massachusetts since 2005.

"The death of this leatherback is a good example of how sea turtles may survive entanglements but become so compromised that they later succumb. We cannot assume that all sea turtles released from entanglements will survive," Dr. Charlies Innis, the aquarium's chief veterinarian and expert in sea turtle medicine, said.

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