Rescue, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation Program

Rescue, Diagnosis, & Treatment


  1. 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.
  2. Dolphins and whales are lifted using specially designed, strong nylon
    slings. Then they are carefully placed into padded fiberglass units.

  3. During the harbor seal and California sea lion pupping seasons (February through July), animal care staff from SeaWorld of California often make routine trips to local beaches to recover stranded animals.
  4. Animal care staff makes routine trips to local beaches during pupping
    season to recover stranded animals.

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

Treatment at the Rescue Site

  1. Stranded whales and dolphins may require treatment at the rescue site.
    • Rescuers check and monitor vital signs including body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Animals are also examined for external injuries (Dierauf, 1990).
    • Rescuers prevent this dolphin’s skin from drying out by misting it with cool water.

    • Water, ice, and wet sheets and towels prevent overheating. Ointments may be used to protect the animal's skin from sunburn and drying (Geraci and Lounsbury, 1993; Dierauf, 1990).
    • Animals are examined for external injuries and may begin to receive
      treatment immediately.

    • An animal may need help in keeping its blowhole and eyes free of water and sand (Geraci and Lounsbury, 1993).
    • Blood samples are important evaluation tools and can be immediately tested at laboratories close to stranding sites.
    • A stranded cetacean is usually extremely debilitated-rescuers may administer broad spectrum antibiotics to improve its chances of survival (Dierauf, 1990).

Medical Examination

  1. 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.
  2. Once they arrive at SeaWorld, rescued animals like this leatherback sea turtle are thoroughly examined by veterinarians and staff.


  1. 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.
  2. Undernourished and dehydrated stranded animals are often too weak
    to eat on their own and must be tube-fed. The tubing is gently
    inserted through the animal’s mouth to its stomach and nutrients are
    fed to them in liquid form.

Treating Young Animals

  1. 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.
  2. Orphaned calves like this manatee are fed an artificial
    milk replacer formula.