Brown Pelican

Results of Rescue Program

Outcome of Treatment

Restoring health to stranded animals takes a great deal of time and effort. The eventual outcome of an animal depends upon its initial condition when rescued. Juveniles often have a better chance of recovery than adults.

Animal Return

When a rehabilitated animal is healthy, strong, and able to fend for itself in the wild, it is ready for return. Rehabilitated marine animals must meet criteria for return established by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). NMFS has established the following criteria for returning a rehabilitated whale, dolphin, seal, or sea lion:

  • The animal is eating well.
  • The animal exhibits good weight gain and/or is able to maintain healthy body weight.
  • Behavioral activity is normal: the animal exhibits a variable swimming repertoire, normal feeding behavior, and normal breathing patterns.
  • The animal exhibits stable or improving blood values that are compatible with survival in the wild.
  • The animal has been marked for future identification.

Marked for identification

Before a pinniped or sea turtle is returned to the wild, a NMFS tag is attached to one of its hind flippers, in the event future identification is necessary.

Some animals — mostly sea turtles, fur seals, and elephant seals — are fitted with satellite, acoustic, or other tracking devices. Scientists at HSWRI (Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute) and SeaWorld have sought to gain a greater understanding of their navigation and biology and data from the tracking devices lends to this research.

Veterinarians attach satellite or radio transmitters that are usually designed to fall off within a few months or to break away in the unlikely event of entanglement. Researchers can track the animal by following the satellite or radio signals that the transmitter sends.

Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags are widely used in fisheries and wildlife research. A PIT tag is a microchip enclosed in a tiny glass capsule, which is injected into an animal. Each PIT tag is coded with data, inducing a unique identification code. Later, when the tag is detected, a reader device electronically records the identification code and data.

Animals That Are Not Released

Chronically debilitated animals may be kept at SeaWorld parks, or other NMFS authorized facilities, on public display or in off-exhibit enclosures.

Annual Number of Rescues

The number of animals rescued each year varies widely with weather conditions, food availability, animal population levels, and other factors.

Since the program began in 1965, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have rescued more than 31,376 animals (as of November 2017).

As of November 2017, SeaWorld San Diego has rescued more than 17,782 animals since 1965.

In 2015, SeaWorld San Diego's Rescue Team cared for an unprecedented number of ill, injured, and stranded marine mammals as a result of an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) that caused juvenile sea lions to strand on beaches along the central and Southern California coastline. In total, the team cared for a total of 1,446 animals, 990 of which were California sea lions.

In 2016, SeaWorld San Diego's Rescue Team rescued a total of 990 animals, including 403 California sea lions and 534 birds.

SeaWorld Orlando is one of the founding institutions of the Southeastern U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network (SEUS). SeaWorld Orlando rescues 20 to 40 stranded marine mammals annually, primarily manatees. SeaWorld Orlando also rescues 100 to 200 birds and 40 to 50 sea turtles each year. In 1990, SeaWorld Research Biologist Dr. Daniel Odell received a Presidential Point of Light award from President George Bush for his work with the Stranding Network.

As of November 2017, SeaWorld Orlando has rescued more than 10,134 animals since 1974.

In 2015 SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue Team cared for 33 manatees, 91 sea turtles, and 533 birds.

In 2016 SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue Team responded to 701 calls for help and cared for 32 manatees, 82 sea turtles and reptiles, 8 cetaceans, and 579 birds.

SeaWorld San Antonio occasionally rescues sea turtles, cetaceans, and birds. Since 1988 SeaWorld San Antonio has rescued more than 159 animals in need.

In 2016, SeaWorld San Antonio cared for 1 cetacean and 1 bird.

Busch Gardens Tampa's Rescue Team cares for birds, reptiles, and terrestrial mammals. Since 1997 Busch Gardens Tampa has rescued more than 2,351 animals in need.

In 2016, Busch Gardens Tampa cared for 387 birds, 1 reptile, 1 amphibian, and 10 mammals.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Rescue Team cares for birds, reptiles, and terrestrial mammals. Since 2008 Busch Gardens Williamsburg has rescued more than 394 animals in need.

In 2016, Busch Gardens Williamsburg cared for 11 birds, 21 reptiles, and 12 mammals.


SeaWorld covers all expenses of its Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program including staff, transportation, and facilities at an annual cost estimated at more than $1 million.