The reward for information leading to the conviction of the person who speared an endagered loggerhead sea turtle near Big Pine Key is up to a whopping $12,850 -- plus three free fishing trips, three free diving trips, and eight hours of welding.
The reward pool has grown since Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti immediately pledged a $500 reward, supplemented by turtle lovers from Key West to Sarasota.
"We're still getting calls with donations for the reward, so it's not over yet," said Turtle Hospital manager Jo Ellen Basile. "You don't do that to our turtles in the Keys. I think it says something about our community. People are outraged that someone would do that -- both because of the cruelty and the wasted resource."
The 125-pound subadult sea turtle, nicknamed Sara by staffers of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon where she is recovering, was discovered on August 3 with an unusually high-powered 4-foot spear lodged through her head.
"People immediately recognized it as a type not normally sold in the Keys," said Basile. "It's a Torres pneumatic spear, a higher powered weapon than is normally used for spearfishing here. You'd be more likely to use that whale hunting."
After spotting Sara struggling to come up for air about 3 miles offshore, a fisherman and his son contacted the Coast Guard for permission to capture the endangered turtle, and then spent 40 minutes bringing her on board before meeting turtle rescue at their dock.
Monroe County Fire Rescue cut down the spear for safer transport, and subsequent x-rays at the Turtle Hospital showed the spear had penetrated behind an eye and across the back of Sara's throat, just missing her brain.
The spear's barb made it impossible to put out the way it had gone in, so volunteer veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader had to push it out through the other side of her head where it had already poked through the skin.
Harming a loggerhead turtle is a violation of the US Endangered Species Act, and carries a third degree felony charge in Florida. After it was removed, the spear was taken into evidence by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
For Sara, it was a narrow escape. "She's doing great," said Jo Ellen Basile, Turtle Hospital's manager. "She's healthy and fiesty, one lucky turtle."
Hospital experts expect Sara will be healthy enough for release in about a month.