Dozens of sea turtles stabbed to death off the island of Japan

A frustrated fisherman has confessed to stabbing dozens of protected sea turtles to death on a southern Japanese island after they got caught in his fishing nets, according to local officials.

Between 30 and 50 green sea turtles were found dead or dying last Thursday, with stab wounds to their necks and elsewhere, on a beach on the remote island of Kumejima, some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the south -west of Tokyo.

It was “an extremely macabre scene”, according to Yoshimitsu Tsukakoshi, a senior official with Kumejima Umigame-kan, a local sea turtle conservation organization.

“Sea turtles are gentle creatures and they move away when humans approach them,” Tsukakoshi told AFP on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t believe that could happen these days.”

Yuji Tabata, the head of the local fishermen’s cooperative, told AFP the man in charge confessed to stabbing the animals after dozens became entangled in his gillnet.

The fisherman, whose name has not been released, told the co-op that he released many entangled turtles, but after struggling with the animals he began stabbing them to try to weaken them.

“He said he had never seen so many turtles on his nets. He regrets it now,” Tabata said.

“He said he felt in physical danger.”

The city’s local government and police are investigating the deaths, a city official told AFP, declining to say whether the fisherman could face any penalties for the incident.

An editorial in the local Okinawa Times newspaper on Tuesday condemned the deaths and the manner in which the protected animals were left to perish on the beach.

He also urged local officials to look into fishermen’s claims that the turtles are causing economic damage.

Local reports indicated that some fishermen in the area believed the turtle population was increasing.

The creatures can collide with fishing boats, hurting themselves and damaging the propellers of the boats.

Tabata said the community is also concerned about the turtles eating the seagrass beds that are home to the fish they depend on for their livelihood.

He pointed out that the incident was rare and that fishermen routinely untangle turtles caught in their lines.

“We are coming up with ideas to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he added.

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