Eight endangered sea turtles found dead in northern Taiwan on single day

Researchers believe fishing activities most likely the cause of the marine reptiles' deaths

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A sea turtle found dead in eastern Taiwan on Feb. 23. (Coast Guard photo)

A sea turtle found dead in eastern Taiwan on Feb. 23. (Coast Guard photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The bodies of eight sea turtles were found on the northeastern coast of Taiwan on Sunday (Feb. 23), and researchers believe fishing activities to be the cause of the endangered animals’ deaths.

Seven green sea turtles were found dead on the shores between Nanya in Ruifang District and Longdone in Gongliao District of New Taipei City on Sunday. On the same day, another sea turtle was discovered in Bali District, also in New Taipei City.

Researchers from National Taiwan Ocean University rushed to the sites to perform autopsies before Coast Guard personnel buried the bodies nearby.

The eight turtles were identified as green sea turtles — a protected species whose numbers have been shrinking around Taiwan and its outlying islands over the years. Among them was a mature female measuring approximately 120 to 130 centimeters in length, and the others were adolescents.

As the lung of the adult turtle had filled with blood, the researchers concluded that it had probably been captured accidentally by the net of a fishing vessel. The eight sea turtles were likely killed due to fishing activities, and their bodies were later abandoned and washed up on the shore, the research team said after the post-mortem.

“When a turtle suddenly experiences hyperemia in the sea, it is most likely because it has been dragged by some force,” said Cheng I-jiunn (程一駿), a professor at the Institute of Marine Biology of National Taiwan Ocean University. He said the team had found five other sea turtles missing either their heads or flippers.

It is normal for sea turtles to reach the shore from time to time, but certainly not for three to be found at once, according to Cheng. “When there were so many turtles [experiencing a similar situation] at the same time, it is reasonable to suspect the cause was fishing activities,” he said.

Another researcher from the university said sea turtles are more likely to be stuck on the shore in transition from winter to spring because of the rapid change in sea temperatures. It is hard to confirm the cause of a sea turtle’s death, but it is certainly a great loss for nature as eight were killed on a single day, the researcher lamented.

Hsu Feng-shen (許鳳生), a senior Coast Guard officer, said the agency had received nine calls in the last two months asking them to come to the rescue of sea turtles, whereas there were only four such reports throughout 2019.

A report said the body of yet another green sea turtle, already decomposed, was discovered on Sunday in Checheng Township of southern Pingtung County.