What Should You Do If You Hook a Sea Turtle? Virginia Aquarium Shares Tips

The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is reporting an increase in sea turtles being hooked by fishing lines this season.

 The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response Team responded to another high number of sea turtles hooked on fishing lines in 2023, nearly matching last year’s record-breaking season. ‘Hooked sea turtle season’ is the Aquarium’s coined term used to refer to the time of year when sea turtles are incidentally caught by hooks on recreational fishing lines. This year, the naming theme honored Virginia Beach’s 60th anniversary, designating the admitted sea turtles with names of districts, landmarks, and waterways in Virginia Beach. In 2023, the Aquarium team received 62 reports of hooked turtles in Virginia with the addition of one turtle that was transferred from Delaware for hook removal and rehab, making the count 63 total. This season is just under last year’s record-breaking number of 71 reported interactions and 60 admitted patients.

The aquarium’s rehab spaces in the Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center (DMACC) are filling up and officials are urging residents to help. “Turtles with no complications or additional hooks can often be released within 24 hours. However, when fishing hook removal requires advanced medical intervention or turtles are otherwise compromised, they are released back into the ocean when they are healthy, which can be days to months later,” the aquarium states. 

The team has then provided a guide to help residents if a sea turtle is hooked on a fishing line:

  • Inform the pier attendant (if there is one) ASAP who can supply recovery gear

  • Call the Virginia Aquarium’s Stranding Response Team at 757-385-7575

  • Use a net to bring the turtle to the top of the pier. DO NOT lift by the hook if at all avoidable. Lifting by the hook can cause severe damage

  • If the turtle is too large to net, try to walk it to the beach

  • Leave the hook in place. Removing it may cause harm and make medical treatment more difficult

  • When you have control of the turtle, cut the line but leave at least two feet of line attached to the hook

  • Keep turtle out of direct sunlight

  • Cover carapace (shell) with damp towel

It is important to note that anglers will not get in trouble for accidentally hooking a sea turtle; please do not release the turtle and report it to the Virginia Aquarium’s Stranding Response Team at 757-385-7575.