July 17, 2013

Feds: Kennedys' sea turtle rescue was illegal

Robert Kennedy Jr. says in a posting on NOAA's website that he and his brother now realize that what they did was 'pretty risky.'

The Associated Press

BARNSTABLE, Mass. — Two members of the Kennedy family who thought they were doing a good deed by freeing an entangled sea turtle actually violated the law, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

John Bullard of NOAA's Division of Fisheries said he spoke to brothers Max and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about their rescue of the leatherback turtle and explained to them that what they did was dangerous and a violation of the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to handle an endangered or protected species.

The Kennedys freed the estimated 500-pound turtle from a buoy line wrapped around its head and fins on July 6 after they spotted it while out sailing on Nantucket Sound.

The brothers have been "cooperative and very helpful" as the agency gathers pictures, gear and other evidence involved in the rescue, Bullard told Cape Cod Times.

Turtle rescue is best left to professionals because of the danger involved, he said. Anyone who spots a distressed turtle should contact NOAA.

An untrained person runs the risk of getting tangled in the line and pulled under by a turtle, which can weigh up to 700 pounds and hold its breath a lot longer than a human, he said.

"You can get entangled, go under and it can turn into a tragedy," he said.

Only the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is certified to handle turtles.

The brothers have expressed regret.

"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," Robert Kennedy Jr. said in a statement on NOAA's website. "But we realize that the action we took was pretty risky, these are large, powerful animals."

He urged people who spot a turtle in danger to call NOAA, then stand by until rescuers arrive to help them locate the animal.

There have been 22 reported turtle entanglements in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York waters this year, NOAA said, compared to eight during the same period last year.

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