Rehabilitated Animals

Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation Program

Rehabilitated Animals

Sea Turtles

  1. SeaWorld treats many sea turtles each year. The Florida park has treated green loggerhead, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, and leatherback sea turtles.
  2. SeaWorld rehabilitates and releases many sea turtles each year.

  3. Turtles sometimes are brought in after cold weather snaps.
    • Low water temperatures cause a sea turtle's metabolism to slow-the hypothermic turtles become sluggish and are unable to feed. Marine patrol officers may find the turtles floating at the surface of the water in a semi-dormant state.
    • In December 1989, 95 hypothermic green sea turtles were rescued from Florida's Indian River Lagoon. These turtles were housed in recovery pools at SeaWorld for about 10 weeks. Once the weather warmed up, the turtles were released in the same area from which they were rescued.
    • SeaWorld rehabilitated dozens of endangered green sea turtles
      during a particularly cold winter in 1989.

  4. Other sea turtles have injuries resulting from entanglement, watercraft collisions, ocean dredging, or ingestion of non-food items. Injured and ill turtles may require round-the-clock care and months of treatment and rehabilitation.

    Many ill and injured turtles require round-the-clock care and months of treatment and rehabilitation.


  1. The Rescue and Rehabilitation Program benefits many different types of birds. SeaWorld of California aviculturists have treated ducks and geese, and other birds such as brown pelicans, herons, cormorants, egrets, terns, grebes, storks, cranes, and hawks.

    A SeaWorld aviculturist administers fluids to an ill pelican.

    • In 1988, SeaWorld cared for two Laysan albatross from Hawaii that had flown off course. These birds were treated and transported by plane back to Hawaii.
    • SeaWorld has rehabilitated hundreds of California brown pelicans, a species that at one time faced extinction. The pelicans can be affected by severe environmental conditions such as storms and El Nino.

      SeaWorld has rehabilitated and released numerous brown pelicans.

      • In 1992, SeaWorld of California received 240 brown pelicans, of which 104 were successfully rehabilitated and released (DuBois, 1994).
      • That same year, SeaWorld veterinarians performed a rare feather replacement on a pelican that had damaged flight feathers.
  2. The majority of injured birds are rescued and brought to the park by local residents.


  1. Along the southeastern United States coastlines the most common cetaceans to individually strand are bottlenose dolphins, averaging 600 to 700 strandings each year. The second most common are pygmy sperm whales, with 20 to 30 annual strandings in Florida alone (Odell, 1991).

    An average of 600 to 700 bottlenose dolphins
    strand individually each year.

    Each year an average of 20 to 30 pygmy sperm whales
    strand along Florida's coastline alone.

  2. Cetaceans rescued by SeaWorld parks include gray whales, a Bryde's whale, a minke whale, common dolphins, Risso's dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, spinner dolphins, spotted dolphins, a northern right whale dolphin, killer whales, false killer whales, pygmy killer whales, pilot whales, sperm whales, pygmy sperm whales, and dwarf sperm whales.
    • In 1988, SeaWorld of California assisted and freed three California gray whales that had become entangled in drift nets.
    • In late November 1989, SeaWorld of Florida rescued a 2,270 kg (5,000 lb.) Bryde's whale that was found on a beach near Clearwater, Florida. After six weeks of treatment and round-the-clock care, the whale was successfully released back into the ocean.

      An animal care specialist supports and guides a rescued
      Bryde's whale at SeaWorld Orlando.

    • In 1993, SeaWorld of Texas rescued a stranded Risso's dolphin calf.
    • In 1994, SeaWorld of California received 10 common dolphins. Five were successfully rehabilitated and released at sea with satellite transmitters attached to their dorsal fins. The transmitters, designed to fall off after three to four months, provided Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) scientists with valuable information on the dolphins' recovery.

      SeaWorld has successfully rehabilitated and released common dolphins.

    • In October 1994, SeaWorld of California, in cooperation with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and other marine mammal facilities and local volunteers, helped rescue seven killer whales trapped in Barnes Lake, Alaska.
  3. SeaWorld of Florida has participated in rescue efforts for cetaceans involved in mass strandings. In 1986, SeaWorld participated in rescues involving pilot whales and false killer whales. Although none of these stranded whales survived, animal care experts were able to collect valuable information that may help scientists to better understand why whales strand.

    SeaWorld has rescued and treated false killer whales.

River Otters & Sea Otters

  1. River otters. In the springtime, SeaWorld parks in Florida and Ohio may receive orphaned North American river otter pups. These otter pups are bottle-fed before being weaned to a diet of fish.

    In the springtime, SeaWorld Orlando receives orphaned North American river otter pups.

  2. Sea otters. SeaWorld of California was involved in the rehabilitation of Alaska sea otters (McBain, 1990).
    • These otters were soiled by highly toxic crude oil as a result of the 1989 Valdez oil spill.
    • Scientists from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI), in cooperation with other facilities and volunteers, coordinated efforts to rescue and treat the oiled sea otters. About 360 offers (70% female) were rescued and treated at nearby rehabilitation facilities. Of these, 195 were successfully rehabilitated and released (Baldwin, 1991).
    • Crude oil destroyed the water repellency and insulative qualities of the offers' fur (Williams, O'Connor, and Nielsen, 1995). Scientists removed the crude oil with dishwashing detergent (Davis and Hunter, 1995). The sea otters then required a long rehabilitation period to regain the natural oils that protect their fur and the layer of air that insulates them (Williams, et. al., 1995).

      Crude oil destroys the water repellency and insulating qualities of an otter's fur.

    • As a result of crude oil ingestion, many otters experienced anemia, shock, seizures, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), as well as damage to several internal organs (Williams, O'Connor, and Nielsen, 1995). The toxic hydrocarbons in the crude oil were particularly damaging to the liver. Scientists administered a treatment of activated charcoal, given orally, to bind to the hydrocarbons in the intestine and allow them to pass (Williams, et. al., 1995).
    • At the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), some rescued sea otters are being monitored in long-term studies in zoological parks such as SeaWorld.

      Some of the sea otters rescued following the 1989 Exxon Valdez
      oils spill are being monitored in long-term studies at SeaWorld.

Pinnipeds (Seals, Sea Lions, & Walruses)

  1. SeaWorld of California rescues stranded pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses). Approximately 87% of all the mammals SeaWorld of California rescued in 1995 were pinnipeds. California sea lions are the most commonly rescued marine mammals in the southern California area, followed by elephant seal pups and harbor seals. Other rescued pinnipeds include northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals, ringed seals, a hooded seal, and orphaned walrus calves from Alaska.

    The California sea lion is the most common marine mammal
    species rescued in the southern California area.

  2. Many of the rescued pinnipeds suffer from exhaustion, malnutrition, dehydration, internal parasites, and various injuries. Occasionally, animals are rescued that have injuries resulting from entanglement.

    SeaWorld frequently rescues animals with injuries
    resulting from entanglement.

  3. In July 1990, SeaWorld of California's stranded animal recovery team picked up a female hooded seal from nearby Silver Strand Beach. Normally found along the coasts of Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland, the seal was more than 12,800 km (8,000 mi.) outside her range. It was the first-ever sighting of a hooded seal in the Pacific Ocean (Dudley, 1992).
  4. Seal and sea lion pups account for most pinniped strandings. About 80% of rescued pinnipeds are less than one year old. When pinniped mothers wean their pups, they leave the pups to fend for themselves, SeaWorld of California rescues numerous ill and underweight weaned pups, suggesting that many don't survive the weaning process.

    Approximately 80% of the pinnipeds that SeaWorld
    rescues are less than one year old.

    • SeaWorld commonly rescues California sea lion pups, elephant seal pups, and harbor seal pups. In February 1992, SeaWorld of California's animal care staff rescued a harbor seal pup just hours old. The pup, named "Cupid," was hand-raised by the staff and released three-and-a-half months later.
    • Between 1981 and 1987, 14 orphaned walrus calves were transported from Barrow, Alaska to SeaWorld of California.

      SeaWorld has successfully raised orphaned walrus calves.


  1. SeaWorld of Florida responds to requests for manatee rescue and rehabilitation. SeaWorld of Florida is one of just three facilities authorized to rescue and rehabilitate manatees (Baldwin, 1991).

    SeaWorld is one of just a few facilities authorized to rescue
    and rehabilitate manatees.

  2. Many of the rescued manatees are orphaned or ill animals. Others have injuries resulting from crab trap lines, shrimp nets, fishing lines, flood gates, or collisions with watercraft.

    SeaWorld rescues many orphaned manatee calves.

  3. Aerial population surveys conducted in 1995 by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) show there may be as few as 2,274 manatees in Florida waters, evidence of the manatees'endangered status.
  4. Between 114 and 206 Florida manatees, as much as 9% of the known population, have died each year since 1984 (Florida Marine Research Institute, 1995).
    • In 1990, an exceptionally high number of manatees died because of unusually cold weather. Of 206 manatee deaths, 46 were caused by cold weather.
    • Watercraft are a common hazard for manatees. In 1987, 39 of the 114 manatee deaths (34%) were caused by collisions with boats and other watercraft. Of the 174 manatee deaths documented in 1991, 53 manatees - the highest number ever recorded - were killed by watercraft (Florida Marine Research Institute, 1995).

      As much as 9% of the known manatee population has
      died each year since 1984.

  5. From 1974 to 1986, SeaWorld of Florida participated in a manatee carcass salvage program in which SeaWorld staff retrieved and examined dead manatees. The staff recorded such information as morphological characteristics, reproductive status, and cause of death. This information is archived by the State of Florida for future manatee studies.