Visiting cyclists witness snapping turtle rescue at Sandy Run Park

Published 10:02 am Sunday, June 25, 2023

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Maer Seibert and Jack Pettry, tour leaders with Senior Cycling, were leading a group through Sandy Run Park when they spotted a snapping turtle entangled in fishing line. While calling rescue contacts, a local fisherman offered his assistance, and after removing a fishing hook from the turtle’s chest, was recognized as the group’s “hero.”

Senior Cycling is a program offering active folks over 50 years old an outdoor bicycling adventure in beautiful spots all over the country. This particular tour took place on the Outer Banks from May 14 through 19, where the group was led through historic sites such as Jockey’s Ridge, the Wright Brothers Memorial, Fort Raleigh National Park and the Whalehead Club in Corolla.

On Monday, May 15, the group was bicycling through Sandy Run Park in Kitty Hawk when they noticed a snapping turtle that appeared to be in distress as it struggled to move in the water. “We noticed he was huge and he kept coming up and going down and trying to swim away from his location and couldn’t,” said Carol Hoadley, a group member who on the tour with her husband Craig. Upon closer inspection, the cyclists saw a fishing lure stuck in the turtle’s chest, with fishing line wrapped around its leg and snagged on something under the water.

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Seibert was quick to call for help, contacting local rescue agencies and the fire department. While waiting for assistance, a local fisherman was passing by the group. He agreed to assist after learning what they were dealing with, and first worked to get the snapping turtle onto land. “You could just tell how skilled he was getting this turtle to shore,” shared Seibert, who watched in amazement as the good Samaritan cautiously baited the snapping turtle and reeled it in onto the sand.

While getting the turtle onto shore, the gentleman offered some key facts about snapping turtles that he was happy to share with the group, such as their powerful and resilient mouths, and why having a safety stick to keep in the turtle’s mouth is extremely important. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the common snapping turtle has one of the most powerful bites out there, with jaws capable of exerting a force of up to 1000 pounds, which can easily crush through bone.

Once the snapping turtle was on shore, the fisherman worked from behind, inserting a safety stick into the animal’s mouth and using pliers to remove the lure from the turtle’s chest. “He used those pliers like a surgeon to safely remove the hook,” Seibert said. Once the turtle was freed from the hook, the angler released him back into the water.

Seibert shared that the “local hero” explained why he does not use “braid,” or braided fishing line as he held the line that was removed from the snapping turtle. “He told us that that stuff does not go away,” the tour leader noted. According to LanceView, many manufacturers use a polymer to construct braided fishing lines. The plastic that these fishing lines are made with “can take up to 600 years to decompose, making fishing lines a primary environmental concern.”

The senior cycling group was relieved that the fisherman was in the right place at the right time, and were happy to see the turtle freed. “How lucky were we to have that person show up at the exact moment we needed someone?” Seibert shared. Hoadley said Seibert was “dedicated to saving the turtle” and “so sweet about helping him.” She added that the experience overall made for a memorable tour, and left an impact on the group.

As for Seibert, this was her first time in the Outer Banks. A Montana resident, the tour guide said riding through the area, especially while in the maritime forest, “fed her spirit” and she was awed by the fisherman’s knowledge and willingness to assist. Every tour has looked different, but this one was truly unforgettable, as she reiterated how the passerby turned out to be “a local hero in our world.”