Sea Turtle Handling and Release

The current, and best, practice for crew to avoid turtle mortality once entangled in a purse seine net is the use of speedboats or an inflatable raft to release the turtles unharmed from the net before passing through the power block. The best time for this action is when the entangled turtle and net leaves the water on the way to the power block (at this point, the hauling should be paused). If necessary, knives or clippers can be used to cut the net. Disentanglement at the earliest possible stage maximizes survival. Speedboats or rafts can also be used to remove any free-swimming encircled turtles.

When handling a turtle, lift the turtle by grabbing the sides of its shell. Do not lift the turtle by its flippers or use sharp objects (e.g., gaffs) to retrieve them. Release the turtle gently into the water. Do not drop or throw the turtle from a great height. Make sure the turtle is a safe distance from the speedboat before the propeller is reengaged.

A newly disentangled turtle may be stressed or exhausted by its ordeal. If possible, the crew should allow it to rest (for example, on a tire) for a few hours before releasing it. If the turtle is turned, it should not be turned in a complete circle as this can cause their intestines to twist. The animal should be kept moist (the body can be covered—but not nose and mouth—with a wet towel, or sprayed periodically with water) and at a temperature above 15° C (60° F). When the turtle is ready to return to the sea, the crew should take the following steps:

  1. Check that there is no fishing gear in the water
  2. Disengage the propeller
  3. Ease the turtle into the water head first while holding it by the sides of its shell. If the vessel has a side door, releasing the turtle from the open door is a good option

If the turtle appears unconscious (possibly due to entanglement underwater), place the turtle on a tilted surface so that its hindquarters are approximately 15 cm (6 in) higher than its head. This allows water to drain out of its lungs. Again, keep the animal moist (with a damp towel over its shell) and at a temperature above 15° C (60° F). Check the turtle’s reflexes by touching its tail or eyelid every three hours. An unconscious, but live, turtle may not react. If, after 24 hours, the turtle still shows no reflex reaction, it is likely dead. However if it does recover, release it gently into the water.