Leatherback Turtle Dangles From Fishing Hook in Heartbreaking Video

A TikTok video of a leatherback turtle dangling from a fishing wire on a boat has been viewed 4.6 million times and has sparked outrage from one conservation group.

The video, posted by the user alonesomewhale, shows a large leatherback turtle on a fishing boat. It is hoisted into the air by its flipper and then pushed by one of the people on board. The turtle swings out over the side of the boat and is set loose. It lands in the water and appears to swim away.

The video is captioned as being a "rescue," but the Blue Planet Society, a volunteer pressure group that campaigns against overfishing and the overexploitation of Earth's oceans, disagrees.

"4.6 million views on TikTok," the group tweeted, taking aim at the video being presented as a rescue with music to fit that narrative. "The narcissistic human race is documenting the death of the ocean for social media 'likes.'"

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest species of turtle in the world, growing up to 6 feet and weighing up to 2,000lbs. They can live to be over 50 years old.

They are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List and their population is decreasing. The biggest threats facing the species include habitat loss through coastal development, marine pollution, pathogens and climate change. They are also severely affected by the fishing industry, being caught as bycatch and ingesting or getting tangled in fishing gear.

The turtle in the TikTok video is believed to be a bycatch of commercial fishing. A spokesperson for the Blue Planet Society told Newsweek: "This is a threatened species and widely protected. If they really cared about the welfare of the animal they would be using a sling or at the very least fashioning one out of a net.

"Dangling that much weight from one flipper is nothing short of animal abuse and is likely to have caused severe injuries to the turtle. The popularity and normalisation of animal abuse for entertainment on social media has undoubtedly led to a huge increase in incidences of animal cruelty in our opinion."

Brian Hutchinson, from the Oceanic Society, said it was difficult to know what is happening in the video without knowing how and where it was taken and who by. He said it is likely the turtle was entangled in fishing gear and brought abroad as bycatch.

"It appears that the crew are trying to release the turtle, which they do successfully, using the gear they have aboard the vessel, so they have tied a line around the turtle's flipper and are hoisting it overboard," he told Newsweek. "The equipment and methods they are using to release the turtle are definitely not in line with best practices for safe handling and release of entangled sea turtles and could further injure and stress the turtle, impacting its likelihood of survival."

However, Hutchinson also said most fishing vessels are not equipped to safely handle and release turtles caught as bycatch. And most crews have not been trained to do so. Hoisting one back into sea would be difficult without the equipment or knowledge of how to do so.

"It is very likely that these fishers accidentally caught the turtle and then made a genuine effort to release it," he said. "While I wouldn't call this a 'rescue' or evidence of any 'success' or of 'conservation efforts' by any stretch, I also wouldn't vilify the actions of the people in this clip, especially without any additional context.

"The reality is that people eat seafood, and much of that seafood is captured by fishers, wild, from the ocean, with consequences for target species, non-target species, ocean habitats, and for the people involved. To me this video is a reminder of the collateral damage associated with seafood extraction and the need for consumers, retailers, fishers/producers, and governments to work together toward a more sustainable seafood industry."

leatherback turtle
Stock photo of a leatherback turtle. A TikTok video of a leatherback turtle hanging from a fishing hook has been viewed 4.6 million times. Getty Images