An endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle is being treated at Mote Marine Laboratory's Sea Turtle Hospital after it swallowed a balloon.
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 in Sarasota on Tuesday, with what appeared to be fishing line hanging from its mouth. Concerned swimmers called Mote biologists, who brought the turtle to the to 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. "To protect sea turtles and other wildlife, we recommend that people dispose of trash in the appropriate containers and recycle it when possible.
"If you see trash washing up on the beach, pick it up before the tide takes it back out to sea."
If you see a stranded or dead sea turtle, dolphin or whale within Sarasota or Manatee waters, call Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212.
If you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or a stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).-*