It is that time of year when many people partake in outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and personal watercraft fun. All these types of activities have the potential of turtle encounters. Hopefully not the case but sometimes turtles accidentally get hooked on a fishing line, struck by a watercraft or suffer an injury from a boat propeller. In the event of this occurring the following information is important to know in aid of helping the Ontario turtles.
As of today Thursday August 8th ‘1,259’ turtles have been admitted to the turtle hospital at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough this turtle season. These admissions are primarily since April. 90% are the result of being struck by a motor vehicle. Although the other 10% may seem like a low percentage the declining Ontario turtle population cannot sustain any losses. Even low levels of turtle mortality as a result of fishing, boating and personal watercraft related injuries that lead to death is sufficient enough to have an impact on the turtle population throughout Ontario.
To better understand why the 10% is just as concerning as the 90% please consider the following. Each year there are a large number of adult turtles being lost to road mortality, habitat loss, poaching, etc. This is a concern being that these turtles are the breeding pool and essential for ensuring future generations of turtles. Turtle species such as Snapping turtles and Blanding’s turtles can take upwards of 20 years to reach sexual maturity so replacing just one Blanding’s turtle lost for example could take well over 20 years to replace a turtle not able to recover from injuries sustained. At the other end of the spectrum with turtle nest predation being so high each year and the survival rate for turtle eggs and hatchlings being less then 1% there is a gap forming. Long-term research carried out by Algonquin Park has shown that it takes approximately 1,400 snapping turtle eggs to produce 1 turtle to go on to reach adulthood and sexual maturity being 17 to 20 years.
Predation increases dramatically every year as a result of factors such as the raccoon population that has escalated. A balance in nature that many years ago existed with some turtles eggs allotted to being a source of food various wildlife relied upon and the other turtle eggs seeing the incubation period through to produce hatchlings and reach adulthood and sexual maturity and the cycle repeats itself is now skewed. There are a far greater number of eggs ending up as food, far less eggs and hatchlings surviving to reach adulthood and far more adult turtles being lost to road mortality, habitat loss, poaching, etc.
On a continual basis year after year the aforementioned presents the distinct possibility of contributing to species extinction in the foreseeable future, some turtle species sooner than others. As we lose adult turtles the chance of replenishing the turtle population diminishes and high levels of predation hinders the chances of baby turtles going on to replace the adult turtles lost. It is for these reasons and more I share this information in hopes that any turtles that are accidentally injured, in particular adult turtles, as a result of fishing, boating or personal watercraft activities get the medical attention they need to hopefully survive their injuries. They are so vitally important to species recovery in Ontario.
HOOKED A TURTLE
The most effective practices to reduce or ideally avoid the chances of hooking a turtle on your fishing line are location, bait consideration and gear modification.
When fishing in an area you know there is turtle activity please cast your lines away from the immediate area turtles are known to inhabit. Better yet give consideration to fishing in another location you suspect or know to be less inhabited by turtles. If you are not sure or if unfamiliar with the area inquiring with a local bait supplier, store that sells fishing gear or asking locals is a great way to gather that sort of information.
Turtles are apt to go after your bait especially if using live or organic. As the janitors to our lakes and other bodies of water turtles in particular snapping turtles spend time busily foraging for and consuming carrion (dead animal & plant matter) on a regular basis. The “stinkier” your bait, the more attracted turtles might be to it. Turtles are quite fond of worms so fishing with live worms may also give turtles a reason to be interested. Using lures less appetizing to turtles can discourage them from taking an interest and possibly getting hooked.
There are endless types of lures available and information online to assist you in choosing the best lures being types turtles would not be interested in thus reducing the chances of accidentally hooking a turtle. Switching to fishing hooks without barbs improves the chances of being able to easily remove a fishing hook from a turtle should you hook one. A pair of heavy duty cutting pliers strong enough to cut a hook in half so if the barb is exposed the hook can more simply and painlessly be cut in half to allow the hook to slide out so the barb does not tear any flesh is helpful. By modifying your fishing gear and including helpful tools in your tackle box you can help prevent freshwater turtle injuries, mortality and maintain healthy turtle populations. This in turn helps to maintain a healthy lake and fish population as the turtles play a significant role in both.
SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION
If you do accidentally hook a turtle on your fishing line; to prevent further injury reel the line in slowly, remove the turtle from the water using a fishing net or retrieve the turtle from the water by the back end of the turtle’s shell, do not lift the turtle out of the water by the fishing line or tail.
Should the turtle caught be a snapping turtle please exercise extreme caution if attempting to remove the hook. If you are not able to remove a hook with ease and/or avoiding harm to yourself or the turtle it makes no difference if the turtle is a snapping turtle or any other smaller species it is best that a vet or trained wildlife rehabilitator remove the hook to ensure you are not harmed attempting to do so and trauma to the turtle is minimized. Please do not put the turtle back in the water with a hook intact. If you catch a turtle such as a painted turtle or other small species and are able to safely remove the hook without seriously injuring that is great. If the turtle has incurred no injury the turtle should be returned to the water in the area you caught the turtle.
An X-ray may also be required to examine the turtle for injuries not obvious. In such circumstances leave the hook intact and please call the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre (OTCC) home of Ontario’s turtle hospital at 705-741-5000. Their trained staff will assess the turtle concern you have called about and determine the best course of action.
The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is home of the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre located in Peterborough and is presently the only wildlife rehabilitation centre dedicated “SOLEY” to providing medical and rehabilitative care to Ontario turtles. They admit turtles from all across Ontario. Once treated and rehabilitated the turtles are released back into their natural habitat at the point of origin where it is hoped they will live a long life and continue to reproduce for many decades.
Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre
1434 Chemong Road, Unit #4
If a turtle needs to be admitted to the OTCC it is always appreciated if you can drive the injured turtle to Peterborough but if you are not able to there is a ‘Turtle Taxi’ and a ride will be arranged via their network of ‘Taxi Turtle’ volunteers. OTCC is always looking for volunteers should you be interested in helping the turtles this way during turtle season. If you are interested in volunteering for the Turtle Taxi please phone 705-741-5000 or e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.
Please do not assume that a private animal clinic, wildlife rehabilitator or animal shelter in the area you are located or may be visiting will admit a turtle or is trained to offer turtle first aid or treatment. OTCC works in conjunction with 35 First Responder private animal clinics and wildlife rehabilitators throughout Ontario that are trained in “basic” turtle first aid and pain management. To ensure the best care possible and getting the appropriate help needed and the best care possible bypass guesswork and call the OTCC first. Think of them as turtle central through which All injured turtles are reported and then arrangements made in pursuit of the best medical care. When you speak with the OTCC staff they will assess the circumstances and determine the best course of action for the injured turtle.
If necessary OTCC will direct you to the nearest first response team able to administer basic first aid and/or pain management and temporarily admit the turtle until arrangements can be made to have the turtle transferred to the OTCC. The availability of the first response private animal clinics and/or wildlife rehabilitators varies so when OTCC has referred you to one please call the private animal clinic and/or wildlife rehabilitator you were referred to prior to going there to arrange a drop-off time.
Note: Should you hook a snapping turtle, yes, like any of the eight turtle species native to Ontario they can inflict a wound with their beak or scratch with their claws. Common sense must prevail if someone is considering removing a hook or attempting to remove a fishing hook from a snapping turtle and/or any species of turtle. It is expected that people know their limitations. That said though, if someone isn’t comfortable handling a turtle in such circumstances you are encouraged to for your safety and to minimize the trauma to a turtle call the turtle hospital at the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre 705-741-5000.
HOOKED A TURTLE
Please do not cut your fishing line. A turtle returned to the water with a hook intact or injury sustained from being accidentally hooked could in time prove fatal to the turtle due to infection and/or internal injuries if the hook is swallowed. A fishing hook left in could certainly affect a turtles ability to eat and go about their daily life. This can be especially agonizing for a turtle. Untreated injuries and infections can lead to a sickly, diseased turtle affecting bodily functions, reproduction abilities and in some causes the health of other turtles and the aquatic environment.
Although there is a common belief that fish hooks will work their way free from a fish thus a turtle there is no guarantee of this outcome. Even if the case it could take an extended amount of time causing undue stress to the turtle and further injury.
In regards to the belief that a fish thus a turtle will be okay because the fish hook will ‘dissolve’ over time this in not the case. A fishing hook would deteriorate and/or in the case of older hooks rust away this being far different from dissolving and not without ill effects. Fishing hooks presently are most often manufactured from either high-level steel, steel allowed with vanadium or stainless steel, depending on the application. Further to this most quality fish hooks are treated with some form of corrosion-resistant surface coating. The old school thinking that a fishing hook will deteriorate (dissolve) is based on fishing hooks not made of the materials fishing hooks are made of today. Older fishing hooks were more susceptible to rusting away after a long while and then there was the accompanied thinking that this is okay as fish have stomachs that are pretty tough thus turtles would be viewed in the same way. This is not so.
A turtle is not a fish and if a turtle has a hook intact this could affect proper eating that can lead to malnutrition as well as many other health concerns. For a hook to deteriorate in freshwater rather then salt water would take a considerable amount of time given the quality of fishing hooks deterioration could be measured in years. Even leaving a portion of a hook in a turtle’s mouth could result in the turtle swallowing it causing internal injuries and much suffering.
Biodegradable hooks that are truly comparable to the hooks most often used simply do not exist to date. There have been attempts but as far as I am aware no type of hook is available that is proven to perform as expected. Biodegradable materials seem to lack the tensile strength required and would rust quickly making them ineffective for fishing. Research and testing continues in this regard.
In addition to fishing hook injuries there are injuries that can be caused by a turtle ingesting or getting tangled in fishing line. The point being please do not discount any fishing related injury as being minor and not serious enough that a turtle would require medical attention. If the turtle has sustained injuries, swallowed a hook, gotten tangled in fishing line please call OTCC. Given that turtles act as the janitors of the lakes and other bodies of water people fish in and turtles activities contribute to maintaining a healthy fish population it is important to lookout for the health of the turtle population in Ontario.
Note: Good news, in case anyone missed it. Earlier this month, the Government of Canada announced, Plantee Bioplastics Inc. will receive a grant of $138,000 to help further the development of their biodegradable fishing line. This would be a help to turtles, fish and other animals both aquatic and on land and reduce plastic pollution.
BOATING & PERSONAL WATERCRAFT HAZARDS
A boat or personal watercraft strike can cause an injury to a turtle or result in death, especially if the strike involves a motor propeller. This can have a detrimental effect on a localized turtle population. If you know of a lake, river or pond that turtles inhabit please be mindful of their presence. Boat strikes are usually accidental but there have been incidences where turtles have been hit deliberately. Turtles in water actually move faster than they do on land so often they will move out of the way however on occasion timing can work against them. If you accidentally hit a turtle or know of a turtle that was struck or injured by a motor propeller please call OTCC immediately at 705-741-5000.
Thank you for reading this article it would be greatly appreciated for the sake of the turtles it could possible help if you could share this information with family, friends and associates and ask them to do the same.