The Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox) is a freshwater turtle that is native to the Southeastern United States.
Interestingly, softshell turtles tend to be more aggressive because of their delicate shields, in contrast to their cousins with a harder, more protected carapace. Ferox, the second part of the Florida softshell turtle’s Latin name, means “ferocious.”
At CROW, an adult female Florida softshell turtle, was admitted from the Shell Point Retirement Community and was reported to be tangled in monofilament fishing line. Upon intake, veterinarians noted two separate strands of monofilament line extruding from the mouth of the turtle. Radiographs were taken and revealed two separate hooks attached to two separate lines within the turtle’s body.
The following day, the patient was anesthetized and veterinarians used an endoscope – an instrument which can be introduced into the body through the oral cavity to give a view of its internal parts using a small camera – to identify the hooks’ locations within the GI tract inside the turtle.
“The endoscopic procedure is used to evaluate the location of the hooks and help plan extraction. The scope can also be used in certain cases to guide removal of the hooks using long extraction tools,” said Dr. Kyle Abbott, CROW veterinary intern. “In this turtle’s case, the hooks were embedded in two locations, the esophagus and the stomach. Unfortunately, the hooks could not be removed using endoscopic guidance, but the scope did guide our surgical plan.”
While the hook in the turtle’s esophagus was completely removed, only part of the hook in the turtle’s stomach could be surgically removed.
“The turtle is recovering well after surgery. Her sutures remain intact, and she remains active,” said Dr. Abbott. “The remaining piece of hook would have been ideal to remove, but ultimately turtles can survive well with this in their bodies. Her body will isolate the hook with scar tissue, and long-term it is highly unlikely to present an issue for her.”
The patient is expected to be returned to the wild soon. “The turtle will be released later this week as long as she continues doing well with recovery,” said Dr. Abbott.
There were 101 cases for hook and line entanglement reported at CROW in 2018, an increase from the 65 patients that arrived with fishing hooks or monofilament line entanglement in 2017.
“Monofilament line and fish hooks in the environment often affect species such as this softshell turtle. Removing any leftover or caught line helps reduce the impact we have on other species in our ecosystems,” said Dr. Abbott. “Any opportunities people take to remove fishing hooks and line from our waterways have the potential to save wildlife.”
Not only can the clear, strong, flexible plastic do harm to birds, manatees, turtles, whales, dolphins and rays (to name a few), it also non-biodegradable. Scientists estimate it can take 300 to 500 years to decompose. The rehabilitation clinic is continuously involved in a campaign called with other island organizations such as the City of Sanibel, Sanibel Sea School, Monofilament Busters, SCCF, FWC and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society. For more information on the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program, visit mrrp.myfwc.com/faqs.
UPDATE: This patient was successfully returned to the wild on January 28.
CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.