Last week I joined attendees of the National Animal Interest Alliance’s annual meeting at a behind the scenes tour at Seaworld, Orlando, where we learned of Seaworld’s 50-year legacy of animal rescue while viewing the multiple tanks holding rehabilitating manatees, dolphin, and turtles.

As a veterinarian and animal rescue team member explained, Seaworld has rescued more than 24,000 animals and will respond to any call for assistance from state, local, and federal agencies.

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Further explanation is available on Seaworld’s website:

“Our goal is to successfully rehabilitate animals for return to the wild.  The small percentage of animals whose injuries are too debilitating to permit release are given lifelong care.”

The expertise available from the animal health team at Seaworld has developed over time from caring for their “approximately 67,000 animals, including 7,000 marine and terrestrial animals and 60,000 fish.”

Without this extensive training, the animal rescues would not be possible.  The daily handling of marine animal species housed in the park has resulted in a robust arsenal of nutritional, husbandry, and veterinary care that is harnessed during each rescue.

Seaworld and other zoological parks are heavily regulated and must comply with state and federal laws, including, for example, the Animal Welfare Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

As part of the tour, we were able to observe a small group of pilot whales, who had been rescued from several strandings.

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According to the American Cetacean Society pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, are very social, a trait which may contribute to the mass strandings commonly associated with this species.

“In this century, mass strandings of as many as several hundred pilot whales at one time have been recorded. Although no one knows why these beachings occur, some may result from persistence to keep the group together. Other reasons may involve mis-navigation when following prey, when traveling (possibly due to irregularities in the magnetic field), or possible parasitic infections resulting in neurological disorders.”

The following are other examples of Seaworld’s successful animal rescue operations:

1976 SeaWorld Orlando rescues its first manatee.

1980 First bottle-raised orphaned manatee, Marina is rescued, successfully rehabilitated, and released.

1989 5,000-pound Bryde’s whale is rehabilitated after around-the-clock care and returned to the wild.

1997 JJ, an orphaned gray whale calf, begins her 14-month rehabilitation. She is the largest rescued animal ever returned to the wild.

2000 SeaWorld helps save more than 20,000 oiled penguins and nearly 700 orphaned penguin chicks affected by the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. The same year the SeaWorld Oiled Wildlife Care Center, a public-private partnership for environmental stewardship, is formed.

2005 After Hurricane Katrina, SeaWorld rescues 14 injured or displaced sea lions.

2010 More than 300 cold-stunned, endangered sea turtles are rehabilitated after suffering the effects of record-setting cold—one of the largest rescue events in SeaWorld history.

2010 SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team assists wildlife affected by the BP oil spill, including more than 100 endangered sea turtles.

2011 SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team helps rescue and care for a large group of pilot whales that had beached just north of Key West, Fla. Two of the surviving whales were returned to the open ocean. SeaWorld is providing a permanent home for one of the other survivors.

2013 After a mass stranding event in St. Lucie county, FL in 2012, SeaWorld Orlando successfully rehabilitates three young pilot whales.