Tag Archives: Cape Cod

Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

In Your Words: Barbara Brennessel

Barbara Brennessel is a long-time volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where her work includes cold-stunned sea turtle rescue.


Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle
Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

My husband Nick and I have volunteered at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 15 years. In the spring, we survey and tag Horseshoe Crabs in Wellfleet Harbor.
Later in the summer, I monitor and protect Diamondback Terrapin nests, an interest sparked by attending a Cape Cod Field School program at Wellfleet Bay.

Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin
Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin

The highlight, by far, is how we mark the end of each year by volunteering to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles on Wellfleet and Truro beaches. These turtles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay’s cooling waters, especially when it gets below 50 degrees F; they become cold-stunned and thus lose the ability to swim south into semi-tropical and tropical areas.

We keep our phones handy so we can respond to calls from Wellfleet Bay’s Turtle Rescue Team. When the wind is howling from a westerly direction, we anticipate
being called to walk along a specific stretch of beach to look for turtles. We prepare for the cold, the wind, and a good sandblasting.

Our gear is always ready near the front door: boots, down parkas, hats, gloves, and headlamps for night patrols. This past year, we included face masks to our supplies so that we could adhere to COVID protocols. Our sled for transporting turtles from the beach is in the trunk of our car, along with a banana box or two in case we are asked to bring a turtle to the sanctuary.

Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins
Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins

We have seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets while on turtle patrol. It is quite eerie yet also amazingly beautiful to be on a beach in the middle of the night. If you see a headlamp headed your way, who else could it be but another sea turtle volunteer!

Most of the two dozen or so turtles we rescued in 2020 were Kemp’s Ridleys, but the last few were loggerheads. Every live, rescued turtle has the potential to contribute to future generations of these endangered reptiles. It is tremendously satisfying to know that these rescued turtles have a chance to live a longer life, mature, and produce baby turtles.


In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Why The Bear Went Over the… Moraine! (Updated)

American Black Bear via U.S. Dept. of TransportationThis past Memorial Day, scores of mainlanders made their annual three day weekend pilgrimage to Cape Cod. There was the usual holiday weekend chatter about the perennially popular topics of traffic back ups and weather, but this year, the biggest topic of conversation at the start of summer was… the bear!

As a steady stream of travelers made their way over the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, it appears that a lone male black bear also either swam the canal or braved the bridges (wildlife experts favor the canal explanation) and began heading east on Cape Cod, possibly in search of a mate. Cape communities have done a great job of protecting open space, so the bear had a natural travel corridor through the pitch pine-scrub oak woods and adjacent residential neighborhoods, leaving behind tracks and a curious mixture of amazement, amusement, and panic in its wake.

The bear became an instant celebrity, tweeting and amassing more than 1,500 Facebook “friends.” After moving through the upper and mid Cape by mid-week, it headed to the Outer Cape where Bob Prescott and the staff of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary kept an eye out for the bear as they monitored hatching plovers and diamondback terrapins.

Eventually the bear turned up in Provincetown and then turned back south where it was captured by state wildlife officials for relocation to Central Massachusetts. And so ended the bear’s two-week “vacation” on Cape Cod that attracted as much media attention as a Presidential visit to the Vineyard.

Wildlife experts report that this is only the second black bear documented in Southeastern Massachusetts in the past 50 years. Now common in central and western Massachusetts, black bears had been nearly extirpated in Massachusetts half a century ago but their numbers are increasing, and bear sitings in eastern Massachusetts are becoming more common. Similar stories can be told of wild turkeys and fishers, who have made huge comebacks due to the increase in forested land in Massachusetts and are now both regular visitors in the woods outside my window. But I’m still waiting for a bear!

UPDATE 6/27/12: Looks like our pal, the Cape Cod bear has a real hankering for the coast. The very same black bear that was relocated from the Outer Cape to Central Massachusetts was recently caught heading east. This time, he made it as far as Brookline, where he survived a 80-foot fall from a tree after being tranquilized. State wildlife officials say they will take him farther west … who knows where he will turn up next!

Image via U.S. Department of Transportation