Turtle Hospital rehabber Taylor Marcialis attends to Aubie. TURTLE HOSPITAL/Contributed

Marathon’s Turtle Hospital is raising the stakes to find the culprit behind a since-euthanized loggerhead sea turtle that appears to be intentionally speared in the head.

Hospital founder Richie Moretti is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the adult male turtle, found on Oct. 19 by a guest along the shoreline of Long Key’s Lime Tree Bay Resort entangled in fishing line with a spear tip embedded in his head. 

The reptile was taken in the turtle ambulance to Turtle Hospital by responders Tom Higgins and Taylor Marcialis. There, veterinarian Dr. Terry Norton performed emergency surgery to remove the spear, which X-rays confirmed was lodged deep in the turtle’s skull. The spear tip was saved as evidence for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement team.

Despite every effort by the hospital to save the turtle, a CT scan revealed the spear had penetrated the animal’s brain casing, causing irreparable neurological issues. Due to the turtle’s poor prognosis, “Aubie,” named for Auburn University, was humanely euthanized on Oct. 21, according to a social media post on the hospital’s Facebook page.

All species of sea turtles in and around the United States are listed as threatened or endangered. They are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 and Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act. Those responsible for injuring the turtle may face civil penalties or criminal charges, potentially resulting in large fines and prison time.

“This does not appear to be an accident, as the turtle has an injury in the same location as a previous case of a loggerhead turtle speared in the head,” said Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach. “This has the signs of malicious intent.”

Callers may contact 305-743-2552 with information. Callers may remain anonymous.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.