— -- Not all turtles can swim, wildlife authorities in Florida had to remind everyone recently after receiving reports of at least three people trying to release tortoises into the ocean after mistaking them for sea turtles.
Five sea turtle species co-exist in Florida with the gopher tortoise. They both nest in beach dunes, which is what led to the confusion, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
While the individuals concerned wanted to protect the tortoise hatchlings from predators on the beach, the commission said they failed to realize that gopher tortoises can’t swim.
“It's important to know that you should never attempt to relocate gopher tortoise adults, juveniles or hatchlings if you happen to see one near a beach,” the commission said in statement on Friday.
The commission even suggested ways to tell the animals apart.
“To distinguish gopher tortoises from sea turtles, simply inspect their limbs from a distance: Gopher tortoises have toes, with claws on each toe. Sea turtles have flippers with only one or two claws present on each foreflipper,” the commission said.
All five species of sea turtles found in Florida are on the federal government's endangered or threatened lists and managed under the Endangered Species Act, as well as under Florida statutes. The gopher tortoise is protected under state law.