Saturday, 1 December 2012

Leatherback turtle caught as bycatch dies in captivity

While medical volunteers examine her wounds, bone can be seen protruding out of the Leatherback's flipper injury.

November 2012. Chinese fishermen have reported the death of a Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) on Hainan Island, China. The turtle was caught as by-catch by a fishing vessel on November 24 and held in a concrete saltwater pool.

Leatherback turtles are adapted to the open ocean, so when confined they swim continuously against tank walls since, as they are pelagic turtles used to swimming constantly in the open ocean, they do not recognize physical barriers. Contact with the rough surface of the tank caused tissue abrasions, bone exposure, and infection on the Leatherback's nose, flippers, and ridges along the back of its shell.

Beyond help
When the turtle's finger bones protruded from its skin and began falling out, the fisherman housing the turtle reportedly searched online for information on how to care for Leatherbacks in captivity. After failed attempts at restoring its health, the fisherman contacted Sea Turtles 911, the American based sea turtle conservation organization that operates in China. Medical volunteers experienced in sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation immediately arrived on the scene to help, but upon examination of the Leatherback her condition was terminal.

Sea Turtles 911 Founding Director Frederick Yeh describes, "She was very weak, very far gone. Despite the emergency treatments we performed, there was little we could do at that point to save her. Leatherbacks are particularly vulnerable to injury in captivity, and the fisherman contacted us much too late. The waste of such a precious life is heartbreaking."

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