Massive leatherback sea turtle debuts on Aquarium plaza for Boston Waterfront Ice Sculpture Stroll on New Year’s Eve


View sculpture-making in progress: Dec. 28 at Central Wharf

drawing of a leatherback ice sculpture
A rendering of the leatherback ice sculpture. CREDIT: Don Chapelle

BOSTON, MASS. (Dec. 23, 2021) – A massive leatherback sea turtle ice sculpture, designed and carved by Don Chapelle of Brilliant Ice Sculpture of Lawrence, will take over New England Aquarium’s Central Wharf, beginning Dec. 28, weather permitting, and in time for this year’s Boston Waterfront Ice Sculpture Stroll on New Year’s Eve.

Media are invited to see the sculpture being assembled on Tuesday, December 28. Advance interviews are also welcome. Ice sculptor Don Chapelle and members of the Aquarium sea turtle rescue and veterinary staff will be on hand for interviews from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

For 14 years, Chapelle has been creating massive ice sculptures for the Aquarium including a North Atlantic right whale, sharks, penguins, fur seals, sea lion pups, and octopi. This year, he is preparing a life-sized six-foot leatherback sea turtle in a 16-by-7-foot ice carved scene of seaweed and schools of fish. The piece will be formed out of 40 blocks of ice, each weighing 300 pounds, for a total of 12,000 pounds.

Leatherback sea turtles are the focus of dedicated Aquarium research. Dr. Kara Dodge, a research scientist with the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, is part of a first-responder network for leatherback sea turtles when they get entangled by fishing gear. She and members of the Aquarium’s Animal Health, Animal Care, and Rescue teams work with partners including the Center for Coastal Studies to free the turtles before they drown, starve, or struggle with the gear. Her team also uses  satellite and acoustic tags on leatherback turtles to track their feeding, mating, and migration patterns. Leatherbacks face major risks with climate change, fishing gear entanglements, and plastic ingestion when they mistake sea jellies for plastic floating in the ocean. Earlier this fall, a 600-pound leatherback sea turtle stranded on Cape Cod and was released back into the ocean. The sheer size of the behemoth attracted worldwide attention.

crowd of people on a beach watching a leatherback turtle enter the water
A leatherback returns to the ocean in Provincetown after a successful rescue. The response took place under U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit #ES69328D. CREDIT: IFAW

“This is a wonderful opportunity to call attention to our work with one of the most intriguing animals in the ocean. Leatherback sea turtles can be found in New England every summer and fall, feeding on local jellyfish,” said Dodge. “These endangered turtles face serious challenges throughout their lives, including accidental capture in fishing gear, boat strike, habitat loss, plastic pollution, and a changing climate. We are working to understand these impacts and find ways to protect them.”

Don Chapelle began this year’s ice sculpture in his studio in an old Lawrence mill building off North Canal Street. Using powerful and highly accurate ice sculpting tools, he makes intricate designs and then fuses the pieces together on site at the Aquarium. In his studio, Chappelle stores the sculpture pieces in a freezer that gets down to 12 to 15 degrees before shipping them out in several of his delivery vehicles.

“It’s always an honor to work with such an esteemed institution such as the New England Aquarium,” Chapelle said. “We have partnered for 14 years, and it’s been a pleasure designing and sculpting all sorts of mammals, fish, and fauna.”

In addition to leatherback disentanglement and rescue work, the Aquarium runs a robust rescue and rehabilitation program for three other species of turtles. Since the 1990s, the Aquarium has rescued and rehabilitated more than 4,000 endangered and threatened Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. This year, more than 450 turtles have been treated at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy. About 80 percent of the turtles that come in for care are released back into the wild so they can continue breeding, helping to further the populations.

The public is invited to come celebrate New Year’s Eve on Boston’s waterfront. The Aquarium is one of 25 locations participating in the Waterfront Ice Sculpture stroll on Dec. 31 from 1 p.m. to dusk. Visitors can view the interactive map and learn more about participating companies and organizations at


Pam Bechtold Snyder –, 617-686-5068