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Rare Sea Turtle Rescued By Mote After Swallowing Balloon; 'It's Extremely Common'
Underwatertimes.com News Service
July 20, 2009 22:12 EST

An endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) with an ingested balloon. credit Mote Marine Laboratory

The balloon and the rescued turtle. credit Mote Marine Laboratory

SARASOTA, Florida -- An endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) has been brought to Mote Marine Laboratory's Sea Turtle Hospital after it swallowed a balloon - an episode that we hope will remind residents and visitors to stow their trash carefully.

The 3.3-pound young turtle with a carapace 8.7 inches long washed up on a sandbar near the south end of Lido Key on Tuesday, July 14, with what appeared to be fishing line hanging from its mouth. Concerned swimmers called Mote biologists, who brought the Kemp's ridley to Mote's Sea Turtle Hospital.

Before removing the pink line, which had scraped skin from the turtle's face, Mote staff used radiographs to verify that the turtle had not swallowed a fishing hook. Instead, they found remnants of a black balloon.

"Balloons can look like jellyfish or squid - things sea turtles like to eat," said Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella of Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. "It's extremely common to find sea turtles that have swallowed balloons, fishing hooks, monofilament lines and other dangerous objects."

Swallowing trash can injure or kill sea turtles, all of which are considered endangered or threatened under federal law. Kemp's ridleys, among the smallest and the rarest of the world's seven sea turtle species, have visited Sarasota County only a handful of times to nest, but Mote's Sea turtle hospital has rehabilitated dozens because of illness, disorientation and other problems.

Mote's new Kemp's ridley patient, nicknamed Anakin, is receiving fluids, antibiotics and food at the Sea Turtle Hospital. The turtle, which arrived anemic and dehydrated, is being closely monitored for any additional health problems. It will be released into wild if appropriate.

Anakin is Mote's first turtle with a bellyful of balloon, but perhaps not the last.

"We pick up a lot of balloons wrapped in seaweed from local beaches," said Mazzarella of Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol - a team of staff, interns and volunteers who monitor sea turtle nesting every day on 35 miles of Sarasota county beaches during nesting season, May through October.

"To protect sea turtles and other wildlife, we recommend that people dispose of trash in the appropriate containers and recycle it when possible," Mazzarella said. "If you see trash washing up on the beach, pick it up before the tide takes it back out to sea."