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  1. Environment

No happy ending for sea turtle rescued near Ringling Bridge in Sarasota

Marine deputy Mike Watson of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, back left; Jessica Blackburn, who works in Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's Strandings and Investigations Program, back center; Marine patrol officer Ron Dixon of the Sarasota Police Department, right; and Weston Spoon, an animal care technician working in Mote's hospital, front, pose with Yellowfin. [Facebook/Sarasota Police Department]
Marine deputy Mike Watson of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, back left; Jessica Blackburn, who works in Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's Strandings and Investigations Program, back center; Marine patrol officer Ron Dixon of the Sarasota Police Department, right; and Weston Spoon, an animal care technician working in Mote's hospital, front, pose with Yellowfin. [Facebook/Sarasota Police Department]
Published Jun. 24, 2019

The calls came one after another on Sunday: to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, to the Sarasota Police Department, to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

A sea turtle was acting oddly in Sarasota Bay, near the Ringling Bridge.

It would come up for air every 30 minutes, and then sink back into the bay. Over and over again. Like clockwork.

Only its head and shoulders would break the surface of the water. It had trouble diving.

Callers were worried that the turtle might be entangled or in danger of being hit by a boat.

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Marine patrol officer Ron Dixon of the Sarasota Police Department responded, along with Jessica Blackburn, a technician in Mote's Strandings Investigations Program. So did Weston Spoon, an animal care technician working in Mote's hospital, and others.

Marine deputy Mike Watson of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office was flagged down, too.

The turtle wasn't entangled, Dixon said, but it was in distress.

After waiting 30 minutes for it to resurface, they were able to position the boat just right to attempt to get the turtle on board. Six people gripped handles on a heavy-duty sling and pulled, careful not to injure the 200-plus-pound turtle.

It took 15 minutes to hoist it up and over the gunwale.

"It was quite the event to get her up to the boat itself," Dixon said.

With the turtle safely aboard, the group returned to a boat ramp near Mote and loaded it into a van. It was taken across the street to a sea turtle rehabilitation hospital to receive diagnostic treatment.

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There appeared to be an obstruction of some kind. One staff member wondered if eggs were stuck inside the turtle. They hoped that once the obstruction was removed, it might make a full recovery, Dixon said.

Since Watson and Dixon both have yellowfin workboats, they decided to name the turtle Yellowfin.

Dixon hoped to be part of the release when the turtle was one day returned to the bay.

Monday morning, however, he received a text message.

There would be no release for Yellowfin.

A radiograph showed that the turtle had a suspected ruptured intestine.

Because the condition is inoperable, a quality-of-life decision was made to perform a humane euthanasia.

"That was sort of a little letdown," said Dixon, who has been part of turtle and manatee rescues in the past, "that we couldn't be a part of this one."

A necropsy will be performed on Tuesday to determine the exact cause of death.

"At first, it was an exciting, happy story," said Stephannie Kettle, Mote's public relations manager. "Now, unfortunately, not all of our patients are able to make it, because sometimes we get pretty tough cases."

When that happens, Kettle said, Mote treats it as an opportunity to learn more about the animals in our waters and to help educate the public.

She asks that anyone who sees a distressed animal not intervene. Rather, call Mote's 24-hour Stranding Investigations Hotline at (941) 988-0212 or local law enforcement. Photographs can be helpful, as well.

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