Sea turtles are starting to get involved in the Hampton Roads

This story was reported by Kathryn Hefner of partner station WHRO News.

Each spring, the coast off Hampton Roads is filled with sea turtles that travel north to forage in the Chesapeake Bay in the summer.

And every spring, many hang on the fishing hooks of unsuspecting local fishermen.

Since April, seven turtles have arrived at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, which runs a program to find and rescue the suspended creatures.

It’s a much higher-than-usual start to the season, said Susan Barco, chief scientist for the aquarium’s Wildlife Response Team.

“Our first turtles usually come in the first week or two of May, and there is often a little downtime before we get a lot more animals,” she said. “But this year we’ve got a pretty steady number of turtles coming in early.”

All seven were Kemp’s Ridley types, mostly juveniles. It’s critically endangered, but it’s the second most common species in Virginia after Brawl Heads, Barco said.

She said Kemp’s ridley turtles seem to be particularly attracted to biting on baited hooks as they move toward the bay. They probably come to the area hungry after spending the winter in areas with less food and relatively long swimming.

This year, the aquarium named the hooked turtle after the grain. Cocoa Pebbles, Trix, Kix, and Special K are among those that have arrived so far.

The aquarium plans to publish a scientific paper this summer documenting the trends they’ve seen with the hook turtles.

Workers at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center tend to an endangered turtle that was accidentally caught by fishermen. (Photo: Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center)

The different types of hooks don’t seem to make a difference, for example, but baits do. Few are more inclined to go after bloodworms or artificial bait than shrimp, squid or sliced ​​fish.

The Pier Partner program began in 2014 after an aquarium noticed a sharp rise in reported hookworm turtles. Officials wondered if it was a real spike or if the aquarium had simply been exposed more after the death of the great dolphin the previous year.

They decided to better document the issue by working with fishermen at the local docks.

They also had to learn more about removing hooks from turtles, which Barco said can be a difficult process. It can involve cutting the neck of the turtle, and requires anesthesia.

Since some medical tools do not have access to such a bulky hook, they often have to use heavy-duty tools such as pliers and bolt cutters.

“It’s a combination of MacGyver-ing and using veterinary technology to find the best way to remove the hooks that cause the least damage to the turtle so we can release them as quickly as possible.”

Hampton’s Buckroe and Norfolk’s Pier in Ocean View are special hotspots, as are Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront Fishing Pier. The last seven all came from those three regions.

“There are people with so much density on the sidewalks that it is basically the equivalent of throwing candy into the street,” Barcow said. “It is, from the tortoise’s perspective, free food.”

If you catch a turtle while fishing, Barco said the worst thing you can do is drag it ashore on a line. Recommend the use of a lifting net.

Even if you feel you can remove the hook yourself, she’s pleading with the fishermen to call the sink’s fumbling response team. A turtle’s wound can become infected and officials also want to collect as much data as possible on the issue.

The delinquency response team can be reached at the Virginia Aquarium at 757-385-7575.

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