Today, the National Aquarium commemorates World Sea Turtle Day to shine a light on the need to protect the world's sea turtles. There are seven species of sea turtles, and all are threatened or critically endangered due to several factors including fishery bycatch, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, pathogens and other threats. For 20 years, the National Aquarium's Animal Health and Rescue teams have been working to rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles along the east coast. Although sea turtles are federally protected, and despite the high costs associated with sea turtle rehabilitation, there's inadequate direct federal support to organizations that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles.
Currently, the Aquarium is caring for Pecorino, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle which is not only the most endangered sea turtle species, but also the most common rescued animal that comes through our doors—59 percent of all animals rehabilitated since National Aquarium Animal Rescue program's inception in 1991 have been Kemp's ridleys. While Pecorino was rescued after stranding with injuries consistent with a boat propeller strike, his fellow fall 2020 rehab patients were mostly cold-stunned cases and have all been released after making full recoveries. He is still not yet a candidate for release, but he is making strides in his recovery. He was initially just four pounds and most recently weighed in at nine pounds. The Animal Health and Rescue teams continue to care for Pecorino, measuring his activity levels and monitoring his brain swelling through advanced diagnostic imaging, such as CT scans.
The need for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation specifically for the Kemp's ridley species has continued to grow in recent years. In a given year, the National Aquarium helps rescue, rehabilitate, transport or release more than 100 endangered sea turtles. While Pecorino has been at the Aquarium for ten months, the average rehabilitation stay for a sea turtle is three to six months, at a total average annual cost of close to $600,000.
The National Aquarium is one of more than 50 organizations around the country permitted to rehabilitate sea turtles. Experts predict a continued increase in demand for facilities and staff to rescue and release endangered sea turtles, especially amid increasing threats from climate change, which directly impacts cold-stun events. The 50 plus organizations collectively, voluntarily spend at least five million dollars each year on this work; the rising costs to support the federal government's efforts to protect sea turtles are not sustainable.
Join the National Aquarium and its partners across the country in supporting stronger federal investment for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation by signing this pledge. The National Aquarium would like to thank Senator Chris Van Hollen for his leadership on this issue so the Aquarium can continue the work required to provide sea turtles like Pecorino the care they need to make a full recovery and return to their ocean home.