Manatee during rescue

Rescue, Diagnosis, & Treatment


SeaWorld animal care staff respond to reports of possible strandings. If the animal is a pinniped, rescuers may observe it for several minutes or hours to determine if it is in fact in need of assistance. To prevent pinnipeds from injuring themselves further, they are transported in cages designed to restrict movement. Whales and dolphins are lifted with strong nylon slings and transported in padded fiberglass transport units.

A rescue team moves a large animal in a crane-supported sling

During the harbor seal and California sea lion pupping seasons (February through July), animal care staff from SeaWorld San Diego often make routine trips to local beaches to recover stranded animals.

Private citizens often bring ill or injured birds directly to SeaWorld.

First Aid

At the scene, rescuers examine the animal for external injuries. They check and monitor the animal's vital signs including body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

Stranded whales and dolphins may require first aid at the rescue site. Depending on the species and the condition of the animal, they may apply water, ice, and wet sheets and towels to protect the animal from wind and sun and to prevent overheating.

Rescuers may assist an animal in keeping its blowhole or nostrils and eyes free of water and sand.

A rescue team examines a dolphin

Medical Examination

Upon arrival at SeaWorld, the rescued animal is examined by veterinarians and staff. Medical technologists may analyze blood, stool, and urine samples. If an animal is injured, the staff may also analyze bacterial cultures taken from wounds. These analyses can help pinpoint specific trouble areas. It necessary, veterinarians can take x-rays and perform surgery such as suturing wounds and repairing fractures.

A veterinarian examines the pectoral flipper of a young sea turtle

Nourishment and Hydration

Most stranded animals are grossly undernourished and severely dehydrated. In fact, these animals are often 30% to 40% below their normal weight. After a physical examination and blood analysis, the next step in treating stranded animals is to overcome dehydration and restore normal body weight. Some animals will eat on their own; others must be tube-fed essential nutrients in liquid form. Animal care staff use a syringe attached to plastic tubing. The tubing is gently inserted through the animal's mouth to its stomach.

A rescue team feeds a young manatee

Treating Young Animals

Orphaned pups or calves that are still nursing are fed formula. SeaWorld uses an artificial milk replacer as the base for most marine mammal formulas. The milk replacer is generally 13% fat and 7% protein. In some cases, milk replacers with slightly different compositions may be used. Blended with water, this product forms an artificial milk that is similar to the milk produced by many marine mammal species. To meet the nutritional needs of individual animals, animal care staff may add balanced electrolyte solutions, dextrose, salmon oil, heavy whipping cream, fish, or other supplemental ingredients.

A veterinarian holds a dolphin's head