Leatherback sea turtle dies after ingesting fishing line

Hengchun, Taiwan – A leatherback turtle found stranded on the coast of Pingtung County in southern Taiwan in July died of starvation due to fishing line stuck in its digestive tract, an autopsy revealed.

Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council released autopsy results indicating that the cause of death was necrotizing enteritis, as the turtle’s stomach was empty, and its intestinal tract contained a total of 425 centimeters of fishing line. This obstruction led to folding and twisting in the lower digestive tract, preventing normal feeding and digestion.

OAC Marine Conservation Administration revealed that the leatherback turtle had a curved carapace length of 115.5 centimeters and weighed 130 kilograms. On July 4th, it was found stranded in Pingtung’s Wanlitong area and was rescued and taken in for rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the turtle died on July 5th. The Ocean Affairs Council rescue and response team conducted the autopsy, which uncovered two fishing lines with a combined length of 425 centimeters in the turtle’s digestive tract.

fishing line found in digestive tract of leatherback sea turtle

The pathological report confirmed that the leatherback turtle died from necrotizing enteritis, resulting in acute sepsis. It is believed that the turtle accidentally ingested the fishing lines, leading to gastrointestinal complications that prevented it from feeding for several days, ultimately causing weakness and death.

The CGA explained in a press release today that the deceased leatherback turtle was confirmed to be an juvenile male. The autopsy also revealed an absence of food from the esophagus to the stomach. Furthermore, there was abnormal twisting in the digestive tract, and X-ray scans detected the presence of metallic objects near the end of the digestive tract.

The turtle’s intestinal tract measured a total of 666 centimeters, with a fishing line passing through it from the stomach to the large intestine. The fishing line had been present for some time, and as a result of peristalsis, it became embedded in the intestinal mucosa, causing mucosal inflammation, bleeding, and swelling. This condition rendered the intestinal mucosa incapable of performing its digestive and absorptive functions. Prolonged malnutrition led to atrophy of fatty tissues in multiple areas within the turtle’s body.

The OAC urged professional fishermen and the public to practice responsible fishing and to properly dispose of fishing lines. Abandoned fishing lines can pose a significant threat to marine turtles, as they may inadvertently ingest them, causing irreversible harm. Even after a turtle’s death and decomposition, fishing lines can continue to harm other marine organisms.

The OAC also called upon the public to promptly report stranded or distressed sea turtles by dialing the National Coast Guard Administration’s emergency line “118,” or notifying the relevant county or city marine conservation authorities. Providing detailed information about the location, time, and the turtle’s condition is essential to ensure a rapid response from the CGA’s rescue teams, giving stranded turtles a better chance of returning safely and healthily to the ocean.

The leatherback sea turtle is categorized as a level-one conservation animal in Taiwan, and is classified as “vulnerable” on the global Cites Index.

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