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Sea turtle found shot with spear off Florida Keys

Veterinarians remove spear from endangered sea turtle

Dr. Doug Mader, a veterinarian for the Marathon Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys, and his staff remove a spear from a green sea turtle Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
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Dr. Doug Mader, a veterinarian for the Marathon Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys, and his staff remove a spear from a green sea turtle Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

Florida wildlife police are investigating the shooting of an endangered green sea turtle that was found tangled in rope from a lobster trap off Key Largo Saturday with a spear sticking out from underneath its shell behind its head.

Boaters near Carysfort Reef reported the wounded animal to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Police with the agency arrived to find the 155-pound female with the rope and trap buoy stuck to the exposed portion of a three-foot spear protruding from the base of her neck, police said.

FWC Officer Jorge Larios stated in an email that he and Officer Michael Janzen were able to load the turtle onto their patrol boat and take her to shore at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.

From there, the reptile was loaded into the Marathon Turtle Hospital’s ambulance and taken to the Middle Keys for emergency surgery.

Dr. Doug Mader, Turtle Hospital veterinarian, performed endoscopic surgery to remove the spear, which spanned about half of the animal’s body, said hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. The turtle, dubbed “Splinter,” is in “stable, but guarded condition,” she said.

Mader added in a statement, “Now, it’s a matter of healing before she can be released.”

Richard Moretti, chairman of the Turtle Hospital, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for shooting Splinter. Anyone with information can call 305-743-2552.

All species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered and are protected by the state of Florida and under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, according to a fact page on Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography’s website.

Someone killing a sea turtle can be tried both criminally and civilly. If criminally convicted, the person faces up to one year in prison and/or a maximum fine of $100,000. The maximum civil penalty is a $10,000 fine.

This is the second time since early summer that a turtle was found with a speargun wound in the area. A dead green sea turtle was found floating with a spear shaft through its head in Biscayne National Park in June.

The status of that investigation was not immediately known.

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