NOAA Scientist Saves Entangled Sea Turtle

June 02, 2020

NOAA biologist Dr. Jennifer Leo is trained and experienced with rescuing marine life. Thanks to her and her family's actions, this turtle has a fighting chance.

Sea turtle resting in a plastic bin after rescue. It's left flipper had been severed by the fishing line.

Sea turtle resting in a plastic bin after rescue. It's left flipper had been severed by fishing line.

The Leo family was on board their sailboat when 7-year-old Kate spotted a fishing pole sticking straight up out of the water. As the family got closer it became clear a green sea turtle was entangled in the fishing line attached to the pole, dragging the pole through the water.

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In this situation, Kate’s mom, NOAA biologist Dr. Jennifer Leo, is trained and experienced with rescuing marine life. She and her husband Seth, were able to grab the pole. They brought both the turtle and the pole safely onto the boat with the hopes of cutting the turtle free. Unfortunately, the left flipper was severed. The Leo's knew the turtle needed help and called the Texas Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network hotline. They covered the turtle with a wet towel and sailed back to the dock quickly. They took the turtle to NOAA’s Galveston Lab to be evaluated and treated by the Houston Zoo animal care staff.

Thanks to Kate and the Leo’s quick thinking, the sea turtle, Kate named “Twitch,” has a chance for rehabilitation and re-release back into the wild. 

Kate was sad about the turtle and didn’t want to talk about the experience, but her mother explained, “this is an opportunity to tell others about how important it is to keep our oceans clean and what to do if you see an animal in trouble.” 

All sea turtles in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If you see marine life in trouble, you can help by calling trained responders, take photos, and stay with the animal if conditions are safe. The best way to help sea turtles in  Texas is by calling 1-(866)-TURTLE5. 

Remember, when you are at the beach or on the water, please follow safe marine life viewing guidelines and call the experts when you spot an animal in trouble. 

Photo credit: Dr. Jennifer Leo/Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Scientific Permit number SPR-0417-123. 

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on June 02, 2020