World Sea Turtle Day: Pecorino Update

On World Sea Turtle Day, we're taking a closer look at long-term rehabilitation patient Pecorino and highlighting the importance of organizations that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles.

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Pecorino the Kemp's ridley sea turtle arrived at the National Aquarium in September 2020 with injuries consistent with a boat propeller strike to his head. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to boat strikes because they come to the water's surface breathe and forage in shallow areas, regularly bringing them close to areas where boats are found.

Although the laceration on Pecorino's head was relatively small and healed quickly, the secondary injuries to his brain are taking much longer to resolve. Even small injuries like the one Pecorino sustained can lead to severe brain swelling, which can take more than a year to fully heal.

Closeup of Sea Turtle Pecorino's Head Laceration

Pecorino's brain swelling has led to cognitive deficiencies and as a result, he doesn't behave like a normal, healthy turtle. He spends much of his time sleeping and resting and doesn't consistently respond to stimuli. Our team also has concerns about his visual perception in the eye that was affected by his injuries, as it's difficult to tell whether he's navigating around his enclosure by sight or simply feeling his way around.

Pecorino's lack of responsiveness to stimuli had led our team to believe that he would not have appropriate predator avoidance in his natural habitat. Although he's not currently a candidate for release, he's made great strides in his recovery and has doubled his weight since arriving at the Aquarium; he was roughly 4 pounds last September, and most recently weighed in around 9 pounds.

Rescued sea turtle patient Pecorino swims toward a morsel of food.

Pecorino is the only sea turtle currently in our care—his fellow fall 2020 rehab patients were mostly cold-stun cases and have all been released after making full recoveries—so he has full access to the entire rehab hospital pool. This not only helps our team further evaluate his ability to navigate and forage for food in a larger, more complex habitat, but also gives him the opportunity to interact with many different types of enrichment items that he can rest on, scratch his shell with, or swim through.

Our Animal Rescue and Animal Health teams are currently performing ethogram studies with Pecorino, which utilize several methods—including a heat map of the pool—to gauge his activity levels and evaluate behavioral trends over time. Our team will continue to monitor Pecorino's brain swelling through CT scans to get a clearer visualization of his injuries. As we continue to monitor Pecorino's progress, it's our hope that he will eventually make a full recovery and be released to his ocean home.

Rescue to Release Series

Series Rescue to Release

Experience the journey of a cold-stunned sea turtle—from their rescue on the beaches of Cape Cod to rehabilitation at the National Aquarium to their eventual release to their ocean home.

View Full Series

Latest in this series:

Rescue to Release, Part 4

Rescue to Release, Part 3

Rescue to Release, Part 2

Supporting Sea Turtle Conservation

There are seven species of sea turtle, and all six species that inhabit U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Pecorino is a Kemp's ridley, which is the most endangered species and also the most common type of rescued animal that comes through our doors. The need for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation for this species in particular has continued to grow in recent years: the Kemp's ridleys we've rehabilitated and released since 2014 account for 49% of the total number of rescued animals we've cared for since National Aquarium Animal Rescue's inception in 1991.

National Aquarium Animal Rescue rescues, rehabilitates, transports or releases more than 100 sea turtles every year. According to data from 2018-19, the average yearly cost of sea turtle rehabilitation is approximately $589,000.

Experts anticipate increasing demand for organizations like the National Aquarium that rescue and release endangered sea turtles, especially amid increasing threats from climate change, which directly impacts cold-stunning events. Although sea turtles are federally protected and their rescue and rehabilitation is vital to species recovery strategies, and despite the high costs associated with sea turtle rehabilitation, there's currently inadequate direct federal support for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles. Join the National Aquarium and our partners across the country in supporting stronger federal investment for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation by signing our pledge.

Support Sea Turtle Conservation

Sign the pledge to urge Congress to pass the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act and support stronger federal funding for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation.

The need for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate federally protected, endangered sea turtles continue to grow—but little to no direct federal support currently exists for this crucial conservation work.

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