Turtle illegally speared off Aussie coast in 'horrific' attack sparks calls for tougher penalties

Graphic pictures show the extent of the injured animal's wounds that took hours to repair.

An Aussie wildlife rescuer is calling for harsher animal cruelty penalties after she was called to a "horrific" job in which an adult turtle was speared through its shell, penetrating its lungs and requiring an extensive three-hour-long operation.

Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre co-founder Jennie Gilbert said she'd just "stepped off a plane from Melbourne" when she received a call about a "struggling" adult female turtle that had been badly speared at Green Island — an illegal act due to the animals' protected status.

Gilbert said the turtle was rescued by staff from tourism company Great Adventures and taken to Marineland Green Island until she was well enough to be transported to Northern Beaches Vet Clinic for further treatment.

The injured turtle from Green Island, pictured with a spear in its shell.
The turtle from Green Island required three hours of surgeries as a result of the attack. Source: Facebook/ Cairns Post

"The injuries were horrific, a spear embedded in the shell and another deep spear hole, a result of illegal hunting," Gilbert said of the turtle's extensive wounds. "Painkillers and preliminary treatment was administered. Today surgery was done to remove the spear which penetrated her lung."

'Difficult' surgery lasts 'hours'

The "difficult" surgery lasted a total of three hours, Gilbert said, praising the efforts of Dr Michelle Trevan who operated on the animal. "She is resting and we hope for the best," Gilbert said.

Photos show the extent of the animal's wounds from the spear, that cracked right through its shell and punctured its internal organs. Gilbert said injuries like that would've left the turtle in severe pain and it likely wouldn't have survived without intervention.

Left: the hole in the turtle's shell, and right, the spear that caused the damage.
The spear broke through the female turtle's shell and punctured its lungs and internal organs. Source: Facebook.

It's understood the surgery was successful, but the turtle now has a long road ahead to recovery — up to 12 months. If animals are released into the wild not fully healed, their wounds can become infected and they can die a slow, painful death.

Turtles protected species in Australia

In Australia, turtles can only be hunted by Aboriginal First Nations peoples in accordance with cultural practices under the Native Title Act 1993.

Gilbert said this incident highlights the need for harsher penalties for those caught in acts of animal cruelty, and implored governments to do more to intervene.

“I think there’s got to be more policing of it or more fines for illegal hunting, maybe more legislation around it. This cruelty has to stop,” she told Cairns Post.

The injured turtle from Green Island.
An X-ray, right, shows how deep the spear penetrated the turtle's body. Source: Facebook.

“We can get up to probably one or two turtles a year that are found and reported. There’s a lot more out there that aren’t found, and there’s a lot that obviously die and we don’t see them because they’re not reported.”

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