Two fishermen off the coast of Sea Isle City, New Jersey, took an unexpected detour Monday morning to free an entangled leatherback sea turtle from a commercial fishing buoy.
Michael Betsch and Matt Kiel, both of Philadelphia, rescued the turtle after setting out to sea about 7 a.m.
"Our destination was Sea Isle Ridge for some shark fishing. It’s not something we do generally because we have a smaller 21-foot boat, but it was a nice day,” Betsch said.
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The two boaters were cruising around 30 miles per hour when they noticed an animal struggling at the surface of the water near a buoy used to mark a commercial fishing trap.
"We thought it was a baby whale. We had already passed the buoy, but we made a U-turn to go check it out. Even at 20 feet away we still thought it was a baby whale," Betsch said.
As they came upon it, they noticed it was a leatherback sea turtle that had wrapped itself on the trap line twice around the neck and twice around the flipper. Betsch didn’t hesitate to begin a rescue mission.
“It was at least 5 feet long," Betsch said of the turtle's size. "I could barely get my fingers under the rope in order to cut it off. When I pulled on the rope, the turtle started freaking out and lifted its flipper. There’s no chance the turtle would’ve gotten out, and I’m surprised it got itself so caught in the line."
The entire procedure took around three minutes, and the turtle swam away upon being freed from the buoy.
Leatherback sea turtles are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and are threatened by egg collection and pollution, the group says.