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Endangered Burnaby turtle saved in surgery

Reptile swallowed not one, but two fish hooks

A Lower Mainland veterinarian has a message for the public after performing emergency surgery on a Western painted turtle from Burnaby Lake: barbed fishing hooks and endangered turtles don’t mix.

Adrian Walton of Dewdney Animal Hospital removed a barbed fish hook that was lodged in the esophagus of a Western painted turtle that belonged to a breeding program at the lake.

“The first thing is barbed hooks are just evil. They don’t just deal with fish, they also get into turtles, ducks, geese - any type of wildlife,” Walton told the NOW. “Even if the line snaps, they’ll just follow it along and get the hooks in that way.”

Walton said he gets two to three turtles with fish hooks per year. The red-eared sliders are euthanized, since they are usually dumped pets and are an invasive species, but Walton will do what he can to save the red-listed Western painted turtles.

This particular turtle had a large number eight painted on its shell so biologists could identify the breeding female. To make matters worse, the X-ray showed this turtle had a second hook in its system.

According to B.C. regulations, fishing with barbed hooks in Burnaby Lake is permitted, although any kind of fishing in the tributaries or streams is prohibited.

Hannah Nieman, chair of the Burnaby Lake Park Association, said fishing lines can cause problem for all kinds of wildlife, and the group wants to mark off-limit waterways with no-fishing signs.

“We definitely want to let the fishing community know they’re not supposed to be fishing in these areas,” she said. “Tributaries are important habitat for salmon and endangered turtles.”

As for the red-eared sliders, Walton urged the public not to buy them as pets.

“(They) are horrible, horrible pets that nobody wants when they are full sized. They are the size of a dinner plate and nasty and smelly and stink and mean,” Walton said. “This is coming from a guy who loves reptiles.”

The No. 8 turtle is now in the care of the Coastal Painted Turtle Project, a group of biologists monitoring the Lower Mainland’s Western painted turtles. She passed the second fish hook and is eating and recovering. She will eventually be released back in the wild.

The Coastal Painted Turtle Project is in talks with Metro Vancouver to ban fishing in a portion of the Brunette River between the Cariboo Dam and a nearby turtle nesting beach. The biologists have successfully negotiated fishing bans in three other parks.