Law enforcement officials from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were still following up today on the bizarre case of a man who shot a sea turtle with a spear-gun on Wednesday.
Hatteras Island District Ranger Joe Darling said the incident happened about mid-afternoon in the ocean at the Frisco Pier and was reported to Park Service law enforcement by visitors who witnessed the event.
Darling said the witnesses reported that a man was shooting at a turtle in the ocean under the old Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier in Frisco. The witnesses got photos of the suspect and the license plate of the car in which he left the area.
A Park Service law enforcement ranger located the suspect, Darling said. The male visitor to the seashore and a companion told the ranger that he was aiming at a fish and that the turtle swam away.
“It was shot in the back, but we’re not sure how badly it was injured,” Darling said.
The suspect has not yet been charged, he said. NOAA law enforcement officials, who have the lead in the case and will follow up, would like to locate the turtle to make the charges more specific — though finding the animal isn’t necessary for prosecution, Darling said.
Five different species of sea turtles are found around the Cape Hatteras National Seashore—loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Kemp’s Ridley (LepIdochelys kempii), green (Cehlonia mydas), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbriacata).
All of them are either threatened or endangered, and the punishment varies, depending on how the turtle is listed.
Violations involving an endangered species are punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year. Crimes involving threatened species are fines of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months.
Darling said seashore law enforcement rangers recovered the spear used in the incident and will have it tested for turtle DNA to help with species identification.
However, NPS and NOAA want to recover the turtle is possible. They are asking the public for assistance.
If anyone finds an injured or deceased sea turtle on Hatteras Island or Ocracoke Island, please contact the National Park Service at 252-475-9010 or 9013.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore law enforcement rangers are working with federal, state and local authorities to solve this crime. The Dare Community Crimeline is offering a reward for information leading to the conviction in this case. For more information, please contact: http://darecommunitycrimeline.org or call 252-473-3111 or 800-745-2746.