Tuesday, April 7, 2015

FWC: Don't Put Gopher Tortoises In Ocean, They Can't Swim

Gopher Tortoise
Gopher Tortoise. Image Credit: FWC

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials say that they have received three known reports of well-intentioned good Samaritans incorrectly releasing gopher tortoise hatchlings into the ocean last month. 

Gopher tortoises cannot swim well and can easily drown.  They have adapted to living in dry habitats and live in well-drained sandy areas with a sparse tree canopy and abundant low growing vegetation.  Because gopher tortoises often nest in dunes adjacent to sea turtle nesting beaches, FWC officials say that correct identification of these terrestrial animals is important before deciding what action, if any, is necessary.

To distinguish gopher tortoises from sea turtles, simply inspect their limbs from a distance: Gopher tortoises have toes, with claws on each toe. Sea turtles have flippers with only one or two claws present on each foreflipper. Proper identification can be achieved without handling the animals. 

Sea Turtle
Sea Turtle. Brevard Times / file photo.

All five species of sea turtles found in Florida are federally endangered or threatened and managed under the Endangered Species Act as well as under Florida Statutes; the gopher tortoise is listed under state law.  If you spot any of these species in danger on the beach, FWC asks that you please do not disturb the animal. Instead, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or call #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone.