The Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur is now home to a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle – the rarest species of sea turtle.
The turtle, named Kale, was transferred to his forever home at the Cook Museum in June from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, a facility that rescues and rehabilitates sea turtles and marine animals.
Kale, while still a juvenile, was hooked in 2019 by a recreational fisherman off a pier on Chesapeake Bay. The stranding team from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center was called in to help rescue and care for the turtle.
The removal of the hook required several invasive surgeries, after which scar tissue and a fistula formed, requiring lifelong medical care and the inability to release Kale into the wild.
The Cook Museum staff and veterinarians now monitor his condition, giving the care he needs to have a chance at a long and happy life — which, in the wild, can be for up to 50 years.
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, named for Richard Kemp, a fisherman who first described the species in 1880, is listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and has been on the U.S. endangered species list since the 1970s.
Kemp’s ridley is one of the smallest sea turtles, generally reaching about 2 feet in length and 100 pounds. They are primarily located in the Gulf of Mexico but have been found as far north as Nova Scotia.
The Sea Turtle Conservancy said the greatest threat to the Kemp’s ridley is from humans who collect the turtle eggs, kill adults and juveniles for meat and other products, and cause loss of habitat.
Museum visitors can learn more about the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and how they can help turtles by visiting and seeing Kale when the Oceans Exhibit reopens on Wednesday, July 8. The museum has been closed since March 15 due to COVID-19 precautions.
Beginning July 8, the hours of operation for all areas of the museum will be Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.