Onlookers spotted the box turtle stuck atop a eucalyptus tree in Oceanside Sunday afternoon.
Firefighters arrived at the scene to free the turtle -- only for it to get caught in a breeze and carried to the ground.
The reptile was not physically hurt and was taken by the Oceanside Human Society for investigation.
Residents who watched the rescue were outraged by the turtle's treatment.
"What were you thinking? I mean, a turtle is still life," Joel Rabago said. "There's no reason to be putting him up in a balloon and sending him off."
If no one claims it, Wright said she and her family are willing to give it a new home.
"This helpless turtle was undoubtedly terrified by this ordeal," PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch said in a statement.
"Perpetrators of cruel or violent acts against animals are often repeat offenders, so it's crucial that this abuser be brought to justice immediately."
Anyone with information about this case is encouraged to contact the San Diego Humane Society at 619-243-3466.