On a good day, a surfer is one with the ocean waves. On a really good day, he’s a hero, too.
A surfer enjoying a beautiful day recently on the water at the Cocoa Beach Pier in Florida probably didn’t start his morning thinking he’d save a life, but that’s exactly what happened. We’ll have to call him Surfer Dude, because his name hasn’t been made public.
Seeing a loggerhead sea turtle struggling mightily in the water, it was clear to Surfer Dude and his camera-toting friend that something was amiss. Surfer Dude lay down on his board and paddled over to the bobbing loggerhead.
It turns out the poor turtle was dangerously entangled in a fishing line that appeared to be secured or snagged on the sea floor. He’d gotten himself so bound up that he was barely able to swim or surface for air. Had it gone on much longer, the loggerhead would almost certainly have drowned.
Surfer Dude calmly paddled alongside the turtle and methodically unwrapped the fishing line from his carapace and flipper. Watch the entire rescue here:
Loggerhead sea turtles are incredibly powerful biters. They use their jaws to crush the clams, mussels, crabs and other shellfish that make up most of their diet. Surfer Dude took a real risk when he spent almost four minutes disentangling the turtle. Had even one finger come close to that strong mouth, there’s a good chance he would have lost it.
Some populations of loggerheads are considered “threatened” and others are “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Internationally, they are considered “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Loggerheads tend to feed in bays and estuaries along the coastline and in shallow areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean continental shelves, areas they often share with fishermen.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges.”
Fishing lines are notorious for trapping sea turtles, as a recent study in Costa Rica demonstrated. Between 1999 and 2010, researchers estimate that fishermen’s longlines inadvertently snagged more than 699,000 olive ridley sea turtles and 23,000 green sea turtles off the coast of Costa Rica. About 20 percent of these turtles died.
If you see an entangled sea turtle, NOAA prefers that you contact them to assist rather than attempting a rescue on your own. In July 2013, they gently chastised members of the Kennedy family who rescued a 500-pound sea turtle entangled in a buoy line in Nantucket Sound.
NOAA says interacting with a sea turtle, even an entangled one, is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. More to the point, they say that these turtles are so heavy that would-be rescuers can get caught themselves in the lines and get pulled under water. Turtles can hold their breath longer that we can, so you can see the unfortunate possibilities here.
So far, we don’t know who Surfer Dude is. Maybe we’ll never know and perhaps that’s best. He seemed content to ride off on the next choice wave after doing his good deed.
Thanks, Surfer Dude — or should we dub you Hero Dude? One lucky sea turtle is glad he met you that day.