Recently, a green sea turtle was brought into our zoo vet hospital by the Department of Conservation as it had been accidentally hooked on a fishing line in the Ōmokoroa region.

Thankfully, the fishermen did the right thing when they realised what had happened and called DOC (0800 DOC HOT), which allowed their rangers and our veterinary team to respond quickly.

“The fishermen did everything right in this situation – they contacted DOC immediately and followed advice not to cut the fishing line short. Instead, they left about 30cm of the line trailing out of the turtle’s beak and attached it to the carapace (shell) so it wouldn’t be swallowed. Often the fishing line does more damage to the digestive tract than the hook itself and it can’t be seen on X-ray, so this gave the turtle an even better chance of survival”, says vet nurse Celine.

When the sub-adult turtle first arrived at the zoo, it was assessed by our team which included taking blood samples to get an overall state of health, and preliminary x-rays to assess the placement of the hook. This revealed a surprise – as well as the known hook, there was also a second, older hook in the turtle’s oesophagus that must have been consumed previously.

After stabilising the turtle, our vet team anaesthetised their patient and then assessed the damage using an endoscope which showed both hooks had pierced the wall of the oesophagus. To plan for surgery, comprehensive 3D imaging of the exact location of both hooks was required, so the sea turtle was carefully transported in the zoo ambulance to Veterinary Specialists Auckland to have a CT scan (a computerized tomography scan uses Xrays to image the body in 3D). These images were interpreted by Dr. Dennison-Gibby (a specialist veterinary radiologist) who could see that the older hook had a thick layer of abnormal tissue around it and the point of one hook was within a few mm of the heart and lungs.  Despite this, surgical removal was thought to be tricky but possible.   

Last week our veterinarian Kimberly and vet nurse Celine were able to operate on the turtle and successfully remove the two hooks – a positive step forward for the sea turtle’s recovery!

DOC Biodiversity Ranger Karl McCarthy explains, “In the lead up to this capture there were two other catch and release incidents involving a green sea turtle and we believe this was likely the same animal as green sea turtles are uncommon in the Tauranga area. The hook was quite deep in the turtles’ throat and the fisherman involved did the right thing by contacting DOC straight away and not trying to remove the hook themselves. By getting in touch with DOC as soon as they could, we were able to monitor the situation and get the turtle the help it needed and we are thankful of Auckland Zoo who are working hard to get this turtle back to full recovery so it can return to the ocean. All reptiles, including sea turtles, are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. While it is not illegal to accidentally catch a protected species, you are required by New Zealand law to report the incident to the Department of Conservation.”

It is our hope that over the next few weeks, the turtle will continue to recover from surgery and be able to head to our Team Turtle partners at SEALIFE Kelly Tarlton’s for rehabilitation and eventual wild release.

With our Team Turtle partners, we would like to encourage all Kiwis to call DOC immediately and use the DOC Protected Species Catch app to report when a sea turtle has been unintentionally hurt, or if you find a turtle washed up on New Zealand’s beaches. It’s also important to take any fishing hooks, rubbish and plastic waste away with you when you leave. We’ll keep you posted on the turtles’ progress!