The Turtle Has Landed

A jet-setting Kemp's ridley sea turtle arrived at the National Aquarium's Animal Care and Rescue Center last week and is slated to eventually take up residence in our Atlantic Coral Reef habitat.

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On October 24, our Animal Care and Welfare teams welcomed a 42-year-old, 62-pound, male Kemp's ridley sea turtle that has lived since the 1980s in a Kemp's ridley breeding program in the Cayman Islands. One of 10 turtles from this program, the turtle arrived in Baltimore in style via the private jet of National Aquarium Board Member Jack Dwyer, founder of CFG Bank, after 90 days of quarantine at Sea World Orlando.

The as-yet-unnamed Kemp's was raised at the Cayman Turtle Centre on Grand Cayman Island as part of a breeding program undertaken in 1980 in an effort to bolster the numbers of wild Kemp's ridley sea turtles. At the time, Kemp's ridleys were dangerously close to extinction due to hunting and unintentional bycatch in commercial fishing operations. While they are still the most critically endangered sea turtle species, the project concluded as the Kemp's ridley population rebounded to less dire numbers as a result of international conservation efforts. Still, eight males and two females that began the program as yearlings remained and have now been redistributed to zoos and aquariums where their health and welfare needs will be met.

Aquarium Staff and Pilot Load Crate Carrying Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle onto Jack Dwyer's Private Plane
A crate containing the Kemp's ridley sea turtle is loaded onto Board Member Jack Dwyer's private jet.

Accompanied by animal care staff to monitor his health and safety aboard a private flight, our new arrival touched down in Baltimore having already completed a quarantine period in Orlando and enters an additional 90-day quarantine in our ACRC. All animals new to the National Aquarium undergo a quarantine period where our staff carefully monitors, evaluates and gets to know them. Periodic medical check-ups and care throughout this process allow our teams to make sure the new animal is healthy and will not introduce any pathogens into Aquarium habitats.

While welcoming a sea turtle is not so unusual around here—especially as we anticipate winter temperatures and the beginning of cold-stunning season on the East Coast—this particular turtle has already benefitted from a uniquely high-profile arrival. With the generous donation of the use of his plane to retrieve and deliver this Kemp's ridley, Jack Dwyer underscores his commitment to preserving the well-being of all animals—and the planet we share with them. Through a $3 million donation, CFG Bank is the lead sponsor of the Aquarium's Waterfront Campus project to install a network of floating wetlands between Piers 3 and 4. This effort is creating a habitat for native species in the heart of the Inner Harbor, promoting healthy water, and reconnecting residents and visitors with the natural world right at the water's edge. This vision for an expansive, vibrant waterfront ecosystem will soon be realized with plans to open in 2024.

Aquarium Staff Acclimates Rescued Adult Kemp's Ridley from Cayman Islands into Large Pool at the ACRC
Aquarium staff helps acclimate the sea turtle to one of the largest pools at our Animal Care and Rescue Center where he will quarantine.

Now that our new friend has arrived, he is poised to become a highly visible public ambassador for our turtle rescue and rehabilitation work. While most sea turtles in the care of our rescue team are kept off exhibit to rehabilitate as efficiently as possible so that they can be quickly released without becoming dependent on humans, this Kemp's ridley has been deemed unreleasable since he was raised entirely in captivity. As a result, he will stay here at the Aquarium in the long term, serving as a representative of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles treated by our Animal Rescue team each winter, and connecting guests to our sea turtle rehabilitation and conservation efforts from his eventual home in our Atlantic Coral Reef habitat.

Stay tuned for updates as we get to know this new addition and introduce him to the public in 2023!

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