SeaWorld Rescue has seen its biggest year for manatee rescues ever, with 69 manatees rescued in 2018 to date and 23 returned to the wild, many after successful rehabilitation.
Over the last five decades, SeaWorld has rescued more than 33,000 wild animals in need including those that are ill, injured, orphaned or abandoned, which equates to over two animals rescued per day, every day. SeaWorld’s goal for every rescued animal is to rehabilitate and return them to their natural environment as soon as possible.
Members of the SeaWorld Rescue team traveled to South Carolina recently, where – in collaboration with multiple organisations – they assisted in the rescue and relocation of a large male manatee. The rescued animal was transported to the Jacksonville Zoo and is being treated for cold stress.
Following close coordination with the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff authorized the rescue operation that included SeaWorld Orlando’s rescue team.
Support for the rescue came from a broad range of agencies and organisations, including: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff from Jacksonville, Charleston, Ernest F. Hollings - ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and Cape Romain NWR, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Sea to Shore Alliance, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Clearwater (FL) Marine Aquarium, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the University of Florida Aquatic Animal Health Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - National Ocean Services - Charleston, and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. WestRock Company (Charleston) provided logistic support for the rescue.
Similar rescue operations took place in the Cooper River in 2015, 2016, and 2017. All of those animals were successfully relocated to Florida, some after brief stays in manatee critical care facilities. As autumn arrives, some manatees attracted to the lush feeding grounds in the upper reaches of the Cooper River seem reluctant to leave the area, even as water temperatures fall. Instead, they locate warm water sources and subsequently delay their migration south. Solutions are being put in place to address these sources in an effort to reduce their attraction to manatees and encourage them to move south earlier.
As part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), SeaWorld Orlando is an acute care rehabilitation facility that provides life-saving medical care to rescued manatees.
The MRP is a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities who work together to monitor the health and survival of rehabilitated and released manatees. The Florida manatee is at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, and disease are natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-caused threats include boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear.
“SeaWorld Rescue is on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” said Jon Peterson, manager of rescue operations at SeaWorld Orlando. “Any time there is an animal in need, we are there to help them. That is the goal here at SeaWorld: to rescue, rehabilitate and return as soon as possible.”
Guests at SeaWorld Orlando can learn more about the vital work SeaWorld does for wildlife at the park’s behind the scenes Rescue Center, used for rehabilitating wildlife that has been ill, injured or orphaned – including manatees, sea turtles, birds and other marine animals.