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The turtle known by SeaWorld staff as “Bruce” was shot four times in the neck, but surprisingly that’s not what made him so sick.
“He was lethargic, he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t lifting his head. He looked pretty much dead,” said SeaWorld veterinarian Hendrik Nollens.
“Bruce” was taken to SeaWorld by a field biologist.
“He has some old wounds to his flipper and his tail that are old. Probably entanglement wounds. My guess would be fishing nets or some sort of rope,” said Nollens.
He also has four gunshot pellets in the bottom of his neck, probably inflicted when he lifted his head out of the water to take a breath.
“When they lift their head, they expose their head and their throat,” said Nollens.
But those gunshot wounds aren’t actually causing him any harm.
“They’re not near any vital structures, they haven’t hit any bone, haven’t hit any nerves or any important structures near the neck for breathing or swallowing,” said Nollens.
He says the turtle was lethargic, underweight and malnourished.
“He was brought to us pretty much as a dying turtle,” said Nollens.
A small population of green sea turtles lives in the warm water in front of the South Bay Power Plant.
“There’s only 50 or 60 of them,” said Nollens. “It’s a small population to survive long term.”
He says most of those turtles are young and probably came north from Mexico.
“There are few mature adults that would actually be able to breed and there are no nesting beaches in the bay, so he’s one of the few animals that is capable of breeding, so he could be a key animal for the population,” said Nollens.
So why would someone shoot at him?
“Probably target practice,” said Nollens.
The turtle has been going through life-saving treatment for the past week.
“For the first night and couple of days we just stabilized him, we were really just focused on keeping him alive,” said Nollens.
They hydrated him, put him on strict bed rest, gave him antibiotics and took full-bodied x-rays. That’s when they spotted the gunshot wounds.
“It is a shock,” said Tim Downing, assistant curator of fishes. “It’s just unfathomable what some people do.”
It will take a few months to nurse “Bruce” back to health.
“Sea turtles take a long time to rehabilitate. We probably want him to put on about 20 or 30 pounds before we let him go. So, sometime this spring or summer when the water is warmer we’ll let him go again,” said Nollens.