MARATHON (CBS4) – A loggerhead sea turtle which was found earlier this year with a metal spear sticking out of its head has been returned to the wild.
Cheered by spectactors, staff and volunteers from the Turtle Hospital in Marathon released the 115-pound turtle named Sara, at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge Wednesday.
Sara was discovered on August 3rd, with a four-foot steel spear protruding from its face off Big Pine Key.
Two Good Samaritans, Charlie and Nicholas Borg who were vacationing from Michigan, discovered the distressed turtle. After several missed attempts, they managed to capture the turtle and called the Coast Guard who in turn called the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.
X-rays showed the spear going through the turtle’s head behind the eye and across the back of the throat in front of the glottis.
Dr. Doug Mader, of the Marathon Veterinary Hospital, who volunteers at the Turtle Hospital, managed to remove the spear and save the turtle’s life. The spear just missed the eyes, arteries, and brain.
“This has to be one of the luckiest turtles in history,” said Mader. “The spear went in just behind the ear, crisscrossed over the windpipe and lodged against the jaw on the other side.
“Quarter-of-an-inch in either direction and that animal would be dead,” he said.
The spear was taken into evidence by law enforcement officials and the turtle was cared for by hospital staff.
Sara is between 15 – 18 years old. Mader said the wound appeared fairly fresh and the turtle probably would not have survived much longer.
Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti quickly pledged a $500 reward for information and others soon added to the reward, including local dive shops, charter fishermen, commercial fishing associations, restaurants and private individuals. He says the spear used is not common in the Keys.
“They don’t use that in the Keys. That’s something you would go hunt Moby Dick with, it’s a lot more gun than anyone would use,” Moretti explained.
The reward now stands at $16,000 for anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and conviction of whoever shot the turtle with the spear gun. The reward also includes three free scuba dives, three free fishing trips and eight hours of free welding and fabrication.
If you have information, please call the anonymous tip line at 1-888-404-FWCC. Anyone with information also can call the Turtle Hospital at (305) 743-2552.
Under state law, it’s a third degree felony to mutilate a protected species.
This month the Turtle Hospital is marking its 25th anniversary. It has treated more than 1,200 injured or sick turtles and released them back into the wild, as well as functioning as a nursery for thousands of baby sea turtles rescued from nests.
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.)