Saturday, October 6, 2001

Isle veterinarian helps
treat ailing turtles

By Diana Leone

A large green sea turtle had "outpatient" surgery in Hilo last week to remove a fishhook imbedded in its shoulder, and was returned to the waters off Punaluu in apparently good condition.

The rescue was yet another for turtle veterinarian Robert Morris, who has a contract with the National Marine Fisheries Service to help injured turtles it brings to his attention.

Morris, who has an office on Oahu, said he gets calls "sometimes two or three times in a week, then sometimes there's a couple of weeks without any.

"Most recently there have been a lot of flipper amputations," he noted, "where fishing line wrapped around a turtle's flipper cuts through the bone."

The 200-pound male he assisted last week on the Big Island had a different problem -- a 3- to 4-inch-long ulua hook deep in its right shoulder -- Morris said Thursday. The turtle could be 40 to 50 years old and was known to turtle researchers because he was tagged before, he said.

A Punaluu resident, Keolalani Hanoa, reported the ailing turtle to the Department of Land & Natural Resources on Sept. 28, said Hilo conservation enforcement officer Andy Ford. Ford contacted the turtle stranding network, which went into action.

Because of the size of the turtle, Morris said he decided to fly to it last Saturday instead of having the animal flown to him on Oahu. The fisheries service paid for the flight, he said.

Students with the University of Hawaii's Marine Options Program transported the turtle to the airport in a van, Harris said.

"We drove to a secluded place under a tree, and I worked for an hour to an hour and a half cutting the hook out," using a local anesthetic and cleaning the wound with antibiotics, he said.

When the students returned the turtle to Punaluu on Saturday, it swam off, Ford said.

"We have a system with (the fisheries service) that when a turtle is sick or stranded or hurt, (UH Marine Option Program) students with pagers can respond to a call," Ford said.

Who to call to report a turtle in distress

If you see a sick or wounded turtle on a Hawaii beach, call these authorities. On Oahu, call the Marine Turtle Research Program at 983-5730, Mondays-Fridays, 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; weekends, holidays and after hours, 587-0077.

On neighbor islands, call Department of Land & Natural Resources offices: Hilo, 974-6208; Kona, 323-3141; Kamuela, 887-6196; Maui, 984-8110; Molokai, 567-6618; Lanai, 565-7916; Kauai, 274-3521.

If you suspect someone is killing, harming or harassing a sea turtle, please call the law enforcement branch of the National Marine Fisheries Service at 808-541-2727 or 800-853-1964.

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