Turtle found entangled in fishing line

A peninsula cooter and 11 brown pelicans were among the 89 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a herring gull, an osprey, a sharp-shinned hawk, a northern gannet, a gopher tortoise and two marsh rabbits.

The peninsula cooter was found entangled in fishing line that was wrapped around rocks bordering a pond. The turtle’s head, neck and both forelimbs were tightly bound in the fishing line leaving her unable to extend her head or legs from her shell. The fishing line caused encircling wounds and constriction injuries where it cut into her body as she struggled to free herself.

Staff removed the line and started the turtle on an antibiotic and pain medication. Each day brings slight improvement although the turtle has been slow to use her legs and extend her neck.

The peninsula cooter wasn’t the only turtle admitted last week. A Florida red-bellied turtle was rescued on I-75 in Ft. Myers near the exit to the airport. Her rescuers safely pulled over and retrieved her before she ventured into traffic. The turtle was alert and active when she arrived at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. A radiograph showed she was gravid carrying 15 eggs. When put in an outside recovery enclosure, the turtle immediately dug a hole and laid her eggs.

After several days, no health or behavior issues have arisen so the turtle was cleared for release. A safe release site was located near where she was found that is a safe distance from I-75.

Turtles face many threats, the most common being hit by car, loss of habitat and fishing hook ingestion. There are multiple ways to minimize causing harm to native turtles. Slow and focused driving offers extra time to react if you see a turtle attempting to cross the road. If see a turtle, offer assistance if you can safely do so. If you find a turtle near a road and it is uninjured, place it out of harm’s way in the direction it was headed. If the turtle is injured, transport it to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for immediate medical attention.

If you are fishing and notice a turtle showing an interest in your actions, relocate to another area. Turtles will go after what they believe is prey (a worm or fish used for bait) and will ingest your hook and line.

If you hook a turtle, carefully reel it in and use a net to scoop the turtle out of the water. Cover the turtle with a towel or t-shirt. Removing a hook from a turtle is usually difficult; in most instances it is best to bring the turtle to the wildlife hospital. Staff can properly remove the hook without causing further damage or pain.

Simple changes can make a property wildlife friendly and mitigate issues caused by loss of habitat, create areas in your yard that can assist turtles when they are on the move looking for food, nest sites or a mate. Add a shallow water feature and plant native plants. Putting rocks and logs in your yard can provide cover for turtles.

The 11 brown pelicans were admitted due to a myriad of negative human interactions that was startling, even for seasoned staff. One pelican was hit by a car, one had a leg amputated and suffered extreme injuries after being struck by a boat, one had been shot, one showed signs of red tide toxicosis and the remaining pelicans were injured by fishing hooks and line.

The most distressing was the pelican injured from a boat strike. The injured pelican was found in the parking lot at Bay View Park, bleeding and severely injured. von Arx Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Robyn Pritchard, responded to our call for help; she retrieved the pelican from the parking lot and transported it to the hospital for care.

As with turtles, there are many simple ways to reduce injuries to pelicans. If you are an angler, don’t leave baited lines unattended and never feed fish scraps to pelicans. Birds easily become habituated to hand feeding and lose their fear of humans making it more likely they will go after a baited line or a fish being reeled in.

If you hook a bird while fishing, don’t cut the line and allow the bird to fly or swim off with monofilament line trailing behind. Reel the bird in carefully but quickly. Once reeled in, cover its head with a towel to help calm the bird. If the hook isn’t deeply embedded, gently push the hook through exposing the barb. Clip the barb and back the hook out. After the hook is removed step away and allow the bird time to rest. The bird should fly off once it has regained its bearings. If it is unable to fly away, the bird should be brought to the wildlife hospital for care.

If the hook is deeply embedded, or, if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention. Keeping a towel and box in your vehicle ensures you are prepared whenever the need for a wildlife rescue presents itself.

When boating, steer clear of animals on the water; don’t assume they will get out of the way. An animal that is fishing is focused on hunting and may not see the danger of a boat approaching at high speed.

Recent Releases

Three mourning doves, two eastern cottontails, six royal tern, four grey squirrels, a Florida softshell turtle, a marsh rabbit, two eastern screech owls, a gray catbird and two raccoons were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website at www.conservancy.org to learn about the work done by staff and volunteers at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Get involved; your volunteer time, memberships and donations are vital and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see conservancy.org.

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Conservancy of SWFL

Conservancy of SWFL

Protecting Southwest Florida's unique natural environment and quality of life...now and forever.