Turtle turmoils at county fair

The fair is fun and games until a turtle gets hurt.

Reports of tiny turtles being given away as prizes for a carnival game at the San Juan County Fair spread across the island community’s social media groups on Friday, Aug. 16. Islanders claimed to have seen teenagers throw the shelled reptiles off of the Zipper, a carnival attraction that takes riders more than 50 feet into the air.

“As soon as we were aware of the issue, we started working with the carnival [workers],” San Juan County Parks and Fair Director Dona Wuthnow told the Journal. “Turned out it wasn’t a legal practice anyway, so we ceased it.”

In 1975, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of turtles under 4 inches long because they are carriers of Salmonella. Frogs were also being given as prizes from that booth, according to San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs.

Krebs added that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been contacted regarding the incident. Live animals that are given as prizes could ultimately be released into the wild where they are an invasive species that can disrupt the local ecosystem, he said.

Wuthnow explained that the county isn’t directly involved in the specifics of what contractor Paradise Amusements does within the carnival side of the fair.

“The County will be working with Paradise Amusements to eliminate the use of live animals in their contracted activities with San Juan County Fair,” Wuthnow said in a press release. “The County has contracted with Paradise Amusements to provide carnival and rides for the County Fair for many years and hopes to continue the relationship in a way that meets our community’s expectations to the best of our ability.”

The Journal spoke with the carnival employee who was working at the booth where the turtles were being given as prizes. The worker said the reptiles were no longer at the fair and had been taken off-island. The same booth provides goldfish as prizes.

Island Haven announced on Aug. 17 that it is willing to facilitate the rehoming of any baby turtles won by children at the fair, who now can’t take care of them. The rescue has community members with turtle experience ready to take them in. The organization said it is prepared to take in the turtles, no questions asked. For more information, email info@islandhaven.org, or text or call 360-622-8548.