What to do with a 300-pound deceased sea turtle

March 7, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY TONYA BRAMLAGE – One of the most amazing aspects of living on the beach on Gasparilla Island is to see sea turtles coming up to nest on our beaches. While only a few people have been lucky enough to witness that, or a clutch of sea turtles emerging from their sandy nests, many more people have seen a decidedly more solemn sight … that of a sea turtle washed ashore, deceased.
Recently, a very large loggerhead turtle was spotted washed up on the beach at 21st Street, and because of its size it wasn’t likely to wash back out with the tide, as they often do. This prompted an important query by residents nearby, and by onlookers: What is the proper procedure to report this incident?
If you’re not a regular summer reader of the Boca Beacon, you might not know. But every year, starting in May when sea turtles begin nesting, the paper runs a weekly tally of false crawls, established nests, and more. We also run a phone number for Florida Fish and Wildlife, to report sea turtle strandings or deceased turtles.
There are many reasons why sea turtles die. Old age is an obvious reason. Harmful bacteria or alga in the water can cause their death as well. Some people have speculated that the particularly harsh winter in Texas might have killed some of them. The biggest predator of sea turtles is, of course, human beings. Whether they are caught in nets, caught by fishermen or become entangled in trash on land or in the water, or hit by a boat, man is still the number one cause of death for much of our sea life.
One important thing to remember if you find a dead sea turtle is this: Designation by the Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill any sea turtles, hatchlings or their eggs. It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products. And yes, these laws include dead sea turtles. Unless you are a designated sea turtle permit holder or a biologist sent to study the deceased turtle, you are not allowed to touch it, for any reason.
If you find a dead, sick, or injured sea turtle, call the stranding number listed here for our local area. Be prepared to answer questions such as the exact location of the turtle and the approximate size of the turtle.
You will also be asked to observe whether the turtle has a spray painted shell. If you find a turtle that has a shell with painted markings, it usually means the permit holder or the FWC has documented the carcass and marked it. Don’t hesitate to call the FWC, though, either way. Sometimes you can still provide valuable information.
Call the FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number, (888) 404-3922. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., you may also page the FWC directly by dialing (800) 241-4653 and entering the ID# 274-4867. Be sure to include your area code when paging.
If you see someone who doesn’t appear to be acting in an official capacity attempting to remove the turtle from the beach, or removing its shell, call these numbers immediately.
In the case of this particular turtle, it was so large that the FWC couldn’t do much with it other than have it removed by Waste Management in a dumpster. It was a sad end for such a noble creature, but its size, extreme decomposition and the odor in our recently-warm weather didn’t leave much room for nature to take its course.
If you see a live sea turtle that appears to be in distress or is injured on the beach, call the above numbers right away. With recent red tide outbreaks around us, it is possible for sea turtles to suffer distress and illness, but they can survive if taken to a rehabilitation facility. Remember, though, between the months of May and the end of the year sea turtles are nesting on our beaches, so make sure a turtle you may perceive to be in distress is not, in fact, laying her eggs. If you are lucky enough to see baby turtles making their way to the Gulf of Mexico, never touch them or interrupt their trek. This journey from the nest to the beach allows their memory to imprint where they will come back and lay their eggs when they are older.
Always let nature take her course, whenever possible. When a little help is needed from humans, make sure the right people are lending a hand.