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Animal Rescue Update: Cougar's Comeback

We’re happy to report that Cougar, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle rescued in 2013, is ready for release!

Published August 18, 2015

Patient 1327Lk, affectionately given the name Cougar by our Animal Rescue staff, was transported to Baltimore from the New England Aquarium on November 26, 2013.


An Unlikely Case

At the time of his admittance, Cougar was fighting pneumonia, infected shell fractures and a joint infection in his left front flipper. Cougar continued to fight the infections on-and-off for months. Several deep wounds along his carapace required weekly cleaning and bandaging from our team, along with regular veterinary exams, blood draws to test for iron levels and blood cell counts. 

Our Animal Health staff closely monitored Cougar with radiographs to track bone loss changes.

In addition to ‘round the clock care from our Animal Health team, Cougar also traveled to Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Columbia, Maryland for an arthroscopy procedure in June of 2014. This minimally-invasive procedure is performed by inserting an arthroscope into the joint through a small incision. 

turtle surgery

The arthroscopy allowed our veterinarians to better asses the full scope of damage to Cougar’s shoulders for a better outlook on treatment options. Post-procedure, Cougar was prescribed physical therapy to aid in proper healing and movement of the shoulders.

By August of 2014, Cougar had gained over four pounds on a healthy mix of squid, shrimp, capelin and blue crabs. His shoulder healed well from surgery, but he continued to fight an extensive shell infection that required a cocktail of antibiotics and medications. 

On April 25, 2015, our Animal Health staff excitedly removed the last bandage from Cougar’s shell!


Cougar’s Comeback

Over the last three months, our team has been preparing Cougar for release. During this time, we have offered live food to assess his hunting skills and transferred Cougar to a larger rehab pool with a stronger current to assess his swimming and diving ability. Cougar passed all tests with flying colors!


During Cougar’s 21-month rehabilitation period, he doubled his body weight and his shell grew over 8 centimeters. 

Species Spotlight

Of the seven sea turtle species found worldwide, Kemp’s ridleys are the world’s most endangered. It’s estimated that the species female nesting population is comprised of only approximately 1,000 individuals. 

In the 1940s, more than 100,000 Kemp’s ridley turtles came ashore in a single day to nest. By the 1980s, those numbers were down to a few hundred nesting females. 

The Kemp’s ridley’s perilous status is due in major part to a century of unchecked harvesting of their eggs by commercial fisherman. Although there’s a variety of factors that have contributed to the decline of the Kemp ridley turtle population, fishing nets and gear from fisherman continue to play the biggest threat yet. 

Nests of the Kemp’s ridley turtles are shallow and poorly disguised, making them relatively easy for both human and non-human predators to find. However, conservation efforts are currently being put in place to help the Kemp ridley turtles and their nests, so that possibly one day the Kemp ridley won’t be on the endangered species list. 

Animal Health staff will be driving Cougar down to the Florida coast for release. Stay tuned for more updates! 

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