Rescued Sea Turtle Swims onto Exhibit at the National Aquarium

Rehabilitated Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle “Pecorino” Now on Exhibit in Atlantic Coral Reef Habitat

On the morning of Tuesday, April 16, Pecorino, a rescued Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, took the plunge into his new home in the Aquarium’s Atlantic Coral Reef habitat and now is enchanting guests on exhibit. Pecorino was rescued from Fenwick, Delaware, in September 2020 with injuries consistent with a boat strike to the head. Despite successful rehabilitation for those injuries, Pecorino was deemed not releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) due to cognitive challenges. He has since lived at the Aquarium’s Animal Care and Rescue Center where he has received rehabilitative care and training in preparation for his public debut this month. Pecorino’s arrival on exhibit marks the first time a sea turtle has swum on exhibit at the Aquarium since the passing of Calypso, the iconic 500-pound green sea turtle that ruled over the centerpiece reef of the Blue Wonders exhibit – originally known as Wings in the Water and later reimagined as Blacktip Reef – from 2002 until 2020.

At the time of his rescue, Pecorino had a small laceration that healed quickly, but experienced residual brain swelling from his injury that caused ongoing cognitive issues, making it difficult for him to behave like a normal, healthy turtle. His symptoms included lethargy and slow response to stimuli, as well as challenges to his visual perception in the eye impacted by his injury. Pecorino’s lack of responsiveness to stimuli had led the team and partners at USFWS to believe that he would not have appropriate predator avoidance in his natural ocean habitat. Still, after several years in the care of the Aquarium’s Animal Care and Welfare teams, Pecorino has overcome many of these challenges and is now able to swim and eat independently, responding to an audio tone to be fed at mealtimes.  He is now successfully navigating the spaces within his new home where Aquarium guests can observe and enjoy this latest step in Pecorino’s journey.

The Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit is a 335,000-gallon replicated Caribbean reef that is home to more than 1,000 animals representing more than 70 species of tropical fishes—and one very special sea turtle. Its residents swim, shelter and explore an intricate system of artificial corals. Part of the preparation for Pecorino’s arrival included measures to make sure that all the habitat’s pathways and spaces could accommodate Pecorino who, at about 25 pounds and an estimated 5 to 7 years of age, is still growing. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest—and most critically endangered—of the seven species of sea turtle, typically growing to a size of about 100 pounds and up to about 2 feet in length. By comparison, leatherbacks, the largest species of sea turtle, can weigh in at more than 1,000 pounds.

“Pecorino’s progress has been remarkable and is a credit to the efforts of our Animal Care and Welfare teams,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Animal Welfare Officer Stephanie Allard. “It is so gratifying to see Pecorino succeed on exhibit where he can enjoy more naturalistic stimuli in a complex physical environment while serving as a public ambassador for our turtle rescue efforts.”

The majority of the turtles rehabilitated by come to the Aquarium from New England through a partnership with the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network suffering from symptoms consistent with cold stunning. However, turtles like Pecorino who come into rehabilitation from the Chesapeake Bay region are an important reminder of the regular migratory movement of sea turtle species through local waterways. Earlier this month, the National Aquarium celebrated the passage of the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance and Rehabilitation Act through the U.S. House of Representatives and are engaged in assisting this important legislation, which will provide funding to organizations like the Aquarium that have long provided sea turtle rescue care without the benefit of permanent federal funding, as it moves into the Senate.

National Aquarium

The National Aquarium is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect people with nature to inspire compassion and care for our ocean planet. Our compelling exhibits, science-based education programs and hands-on field initiatives engage more than 1.2 million people annually. One of the top three aquariums in the United States and the largest paid cultural attraction in Maryland, the Aquarium generates more than $430 million annually in economic impact to the state. For more information on the National Aquarium, visit

National Aquarium Animal Rescue

National Aquarium Animal Rescue is federally permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to respond to sick and injured sea turtles and marine mammals along Maryland’s 3,190 miles of coastline. Our team works with our partners at Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute of Lewes, Delaware, and other organizations to rescue sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals stranded along the Delmarva coast and is advised by NOAA and the USFWS on the release of rescued animals in our care. If you see a seal stranded on a beach in this region, keep a safe distance and call our Stranded Animal Hotline at 410-576-3880. All National Aquarium animal stranding response and rehabilitation activities are conducted under NOAA permit 18786-04.