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CMA warns Memorial Day crowds to stop messing with turtles and dolphins

Somebody on a jet ski brought a dead dolphin calf to the facility, a spokesperson says.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Stop touching wild animals.

That's the message Clearwater Marine Aquarium has for boaters and beachgoers this Memorial Day weekend.

Florida is a crucial place where threatened and endangered sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Five species of protected turtles build their nests along the state's beaches.

Around 11 p.m. Saturday, CMA says it received a report that a female turtle was trying to do just that when things went horribly wrong on a beach in Pinellas County. 

Somebody dialed the facility's rescue hotline to report about 30 people walking up to and "petting" a turtle that was attempting to lay eggs. Scared off by the crowd, the marine rescue hospital says the caller reported the turtle turned around and did not lay her eggs.

"It is against state and federal law to interact with marine turtles in any way," CMA Spokesperson Kelsy Long wrote in a statement. "If disturbed too many times, nesting females can release their eggs in the water where they will no longer be viable."

Long urged beachgoers to stay at least 50 feet away from turtles at all times. If you see a nesting turtle, you are asked to keep quiet and try to stay still.

"If you see someone interacting with an adult or hatchling sea turtle, call 911 right away so local law enforcement can manage the situation," Long said.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state typically sees somewhere between 40,000 to 84,000 sea turtle nests each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says sea turtles typically lay up to 100 eggs. But, only about one in every 1,000 sea turtles survives until adulthood. So, every single nest counts.

"It may seem like a novel thing, a wonderful thing to see a sea turtle coming ashore," Lindsey Flynn, CMA sea turtle conservation program manager said. "But it's so important to remember that sea turtle is coming ashore for a specific purpose."

Saturday's reported turtle trouble wasn't the only concerning situation CMA dealt with over the holiday weekend.

On Sunday, Long says somebody brought a dolphin calf to CMA on a jet ski.

The baby dolphin was dead by the time it arrived.

CMA is reminding anyone who comes across a stranded or distressed dolphin to call the hospital's 24-hour rescue hotline before trying to intervene on their own. 

"This includes touching, moving or interacting with the animal in any way," Long explained.

Doing so could harm the animal. Additionally, dolphin calves typically stay with their mothers for 3-6 years. So, even somebody with good intentions wouldn't know whether they were separating the mother and baby.

"People are concerned and they really want to help," Lauren Brankamp, senior rescue biologist of CMA's rescue team. "We understand that completely. That's why we're really encouraging education out there."

The CMA rescue hotline can be reached at 727-441-1790 Ext. 1.

If you suspect a crime has been committed against a wild animal in Florida, or if you see an injured animal, you are urged to call the FWC hotline at 888-404-3922. You can also send a message to Tip@MyFWC.com or click here to report a concern online.

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