Veterinarians in the Florida Keys did all they could to save a loggerhead sea turtle found last week with a spear through its head. But by Saturday, they made the difficult decision to euthanize the federally protected reptile.
The Turtle Hospital in Marathon began caring for the turtle, which workers named Aubie (for Auburn University), last Thursday when a guest at a Long Key resort found him in distress. A steel spear was sticking out of his head and one of his front flippers was entangled in fishing line.
While many sea creatures become entangled in monofilament fishing line, Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach and her staff believe Aubie was intentionally shot by the spear.
“This does not appear to be an accident as the turtle has an injury in the same location as a previous case of a loggerhead turtle speared in the head,” she said. “This has the signs of malicious intent.”
Keys veterinarian Dr. Terry Norton performed emergency surgery at the hospital to remove the spear, Zirkelbach said.
In the following days, Aubie, who weighed 170 pounds, was placed in one of the hospital’s tanks for rehabilitation, and the reptile was administered antibiotics to heal the wounds.
But by Saturday, he was showing signs of neurological damage. A CT scan showed the spear pierced completely through his skull and into his brain casing, “causing irreparable damage,” Zirkelbach said.
“Aubie was humanely euthanized,” she said.
Turtle Hospital workers estimate Aubie was 35 to 40 years old, Zirkelbach told the Miami Herald. Loggerheads can live between 80 and 100 years in the wild, she said.
Loggerheads are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and losing a sexually mature male is “a big loss” to the South Florida sea turtle population, Zirkelbach said.
Legal consequences and a reward
The case is under investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said agency spokeswoman Arielle Callender. Zirkelbach said investigators have taken possession of the spear.
According to state statute, killing a loggerhead in Florida is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Richie Moretti, the board chairman of the Turtle Hospital, is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or people who speared Aubie, Zirkelbach said.
She’s asking that anyone with information on the case to call 305-743-2552. Callers can remain anonymous, she said.
To report information about the case to the FWC, call 888-404-3922.