Saturday, September 11, 2004

This green sea turtle lost its right front flipper, which was probably snagged by a fishing line. The turtle was discovered by beachgoers yesterday morning at Yokohama Beach.

Turtle mending
after amputation

The green sea turtle's flipper
was snagged by a fishing line

Fishing and turtles don't mix

An alert Leeward Coast beachgoer may have saved the life of a green sea turtle whose flipper was almost cut off by a fishing line at Yokohama Bay.

The beachgoer told lifeguards about the injured turtle. A fishing line was wound around the right front flipper of the juvenile turtle. The line had worked its way through the turtle's tough skin and down to the bone, leaving the limb dangling by a tendon.

The 40-pound turtle's flipper had to be amputated, but the animal's prospects for full recovery are good.

"We're very pleased we could aid this turtle," said George Balazs, leader of the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Turtle Research Program. He noted that its plight should be a warning to fishers: Be on the lookout for sea turtles when casting a line.

"This injury would not have been from loose fishing line," said Balazs, who has been studying green sea turtles in Hawaii for 30 years. "The vast majority of cases like that are from active shoreline fishing, because often the same places where people come to fish are also places where turtles come to eat limu."

Prevention is as simple as not fishing in areas where turtles are rising to breathe, he said.

Yesterday, the injured turtle was reported to Yokohama Beach lifeguards at 12:40 p.m., Ocean Safety dispatcher Rob Miller said.

The lifeguards sheltered the turtle in the back of a pickup truck with wet beach towels until rescuer Cody Hooven could get there and transport it to Kailua, where veterinarian Robert Morris was waiting.

"It was pretty active for an injured turtle" and in good health other than the injury, said Hooven, a research technician with the Marine Turtle Research Program and part of its turtle stranding network.

The turtle will need its strength to continue life as an amputee. The flipper was too far gone to be reattached, said Morris, who has a contract with the fisheries service to fix up sick and injured sea turtles.

"We see quite a number of these with the fishing line," Morris said. Sometimes it takes weeks for the line to saw through to the bone, he said.

After healing from surgery, Morris said, turtles "do quite well with one front flipper. They compensate with the back flippers."

Morris gave the turtle antibiotics yesterday to prepare it for surgery on Monday to remove the base of the flipper. Because the turtle is young -- between 8 and 12 years old -- even experts cannot tell its sex by looking.

After surgery the turtle will be held for observation for about two weeks, then tagged and released, Morris said.

Yesterday's rescue marked the 347th sea turtle rescue since 1990 and the 23rd this year, according to Balazs' program.

National Marine Fisheries Service


Fishing and turtles
donŐt mix

National Marine Fisheries Service officials advise fishermen not to cast lines where sea turtles are surfacing to breathe.

Officials say if a turtle gets hooked or entangled, it is still possible to prevent serious injury by following these guidelines:

>> Gently bring the turtle close to you, and use a dip net or the front flippers and shell to bring it out of the water.

>> Cut the line close to the hook, and remove line tangled around the turtle. Avoid the turtle's mouth and flipper claws.

>> Do not lift the turtle above water by pulling on the fishing line, which could cause further injury. If the turtle is too large or too far away, cut the line as short as possible to release it.

>> Do not remove the hook unless the turtle is lightly hooked and it can be removed without further injury.

>> If a turtle has a serious cut or a hook is deeply embedded or swallowed, call the Fisheries Service turtle stranding hot line any time at 983-5730 on Oahu. Response teams are available on all islands.



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