Changing Planet

The Sea Turtle and the Captain

Captain Robert Thomas was fishing for Chinook salmon in the San Francisco Bay. His charter sport fishing boat, the Salty Lady, was near Buoy 1, just outside of the Golden Gate Bridge when they accidentally foul-hooked an endangered Pacific green sea turtle.

Thomas has been fishing these waters for decades and though he has seen his share of the giant leatherback sea turtles off the coast, this was the first hard-shell turtle he has ever seen get hooked off his vessel.

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Pacific green turtles are not typically found in the cold waters of the Bay. They prefer the warmer waters further south off the coast of Mexico. Above-average sea surface temperatures have been present off San Francisco and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) (NOAA), is predicting the chance of El Niño is at 60-65 percent during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter. Nonetheless, this sea turtle was far from the nearest significant nesting population found in the Mexican State of Michoacan more than 2,000 miles south of San Francisco, which makes the sighting very unusual.

Pacific green sea turtles from the coast of Mexico, where this turtle probably came from, are listed as ‘Endangered,’ as is the Florida population, (while other populations are listed as threatened) under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  Pacific green turtles are omnivorous, though most of their diet comes from marine algae.  They reach sexual maturity between 20-50 years of age with adult females returning to their natal beach to lay their eggs. Sadly, they are still hunted for their meat and eggs in some regions, and also drown when they are caught incidentally in commercial and artisanal fishing gear.

Thankfully, in this situation Captain Thomas did the right thing. He acted quickly to save this gentle ocean giant . He was able to safely unhook the sea turtle and return it to the Ocean. Thank you Captain Thomas for doing the right thing, and helping ensure the safe return of this sightseeing sea turtle.

Salty Lady Sportfishing (http://www.saltylady.com)is a recreational fishing charter vessel based in Sausalito, CA.  Captain Roger Thomas offers a lifetime of fishing experience and a large, fast, comfortable boat to fish fromThe Salty Lady also offers whale watching and sight seeing tours and can be reached at (415) 674-3474.

(All photos courtesy of the Salty Lady).

Todd Steiner is the founder and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. Previously, he was director of the Tuna Dolphin project, which was responsible for bringing to public view the tuna industry’s impact on dolphins and other marine species. He has more than 30 years experience in environmental protection and education. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. He holds an MS in Biology and lives in Forest Knolls, Calif.

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