Sea Turtle leaning over boat being held by rescue team Sea Turtle leaning over boat being held by rescue team
Federal & State Regulations

Federal Regulations & Governing Agencies

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens work hand-in-hand with federal state, and local agencies to retrieve stranded animals and also to return rehabilitated animals. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Coast Guard, state fish and game departments, municipal authorities, and local police and lifeguards often play critical roles in animal rescue and return.

All activities concerning wild animals in the United States are governed federally by the USFWS (under the U.S. Department of the Interior) and the NMFS (under the U.S. Department of Commerce).

Some marine animals — including California sea otters, Florida manatees, some seabirds, many whale species, and all species of sea turtles — are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

All marine mammals in U.S. waters, including stranded animals, are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. This Act, with certain limited exemptions including public display and research, prohibits the taking and importing of marine mammals and marine mammal parts and products. The MMPA is jointly administered by the NMFS and USFWS.

NMFS regulates activities concerning whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions. NMFS has issued letters of authorization to the SeaWorld parks in California, Florida, and Texas that allow them to rescue and rehabilitate these animals when they strand.

USFWS is responsible for activities concerning wild birds and non-marine mammals as well as walruses, sea otters, polar bears, dugongs, and manatees.

NMFS coordinates the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which includes four components: the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a monitoring component, and a quality assurance program.

Some tissues samples — usually blood and liver — are taken from certain species of stranded animals that die. They are held in deep-freeze at the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Marine mammal stranding networks within each NMFS region have a stranding coordinator and one or more stranding operations centers.

Regional Stranding Networks are composed of volunteers who hold Letters of Authorization issued by the NMFS. They include scientists, wildlife rehabilitation centers, veterinarians, wildlife management specialists, aquariums, and marine life parks. SeaWorld parks are regional Marine Mammal Stranding Network members.

Network members are required to collect basic biological data on each individual they rescue.

In 1990, SeaWorld Research Biologist Dr. Daniel Odell received a Presidential Point of Light award from former president George Bush Sr. for his work with the Stranding Network.

All native birds in the U.S. are protected by the Migratory Bird Act. The USFWS issues "Special Purpose" permits for rescuing and rehabilitating wild birds.

State Regulations

In addition to the federal regulations governing stranded animals, some state governments require permits for rescuing and rehabilitating certain animals.

SeaWorld of California works with California Fish and Game and other agencies in retrieving animals.

The Marine Turtle Program of The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rescues stranded sea turtles. Many are turned over to SeaWorld for rehabilitation. These turtles are released when they are healthy.

The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 protects the endangered Florida manatee from harm and harassment. In cooperation with the USFWS, the Act sets up refuges, establishes boat speed zones, and oversees other areas of human/manatee interaction.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Center at SeaWorld San Diego (OWCC)

In 2000 SeaWorld San Diego opened the OWCC. It is one of five regional oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facilities developed by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) and one of 28 participating organizations statewide.

The OWCN, supported by industry and government, provides emergency care to oiled wildlife and ensures that marine mammals, birds, and the petroleum industry can share coastal waterways.

The 2,600-square-foot facility at SeaWorld San Diego is designed to care for up to 200 oiled seabirds in the event of an oil spill along the Southern California coast.

The OWCC is a joint effort of SeaWorld San Diego and: California Department of Fish and Game's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Wildlife Health Center (which administers the Oiled Wildlife Care Network), and the major oil companies doing business in California.

When not being used for oil spill response, the center is home to SeaWorld's ongoing animal rehabilitation programs, primarily for seabirds.