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April 2, 2016

SeaWorld Orlando opens Manatee Rehabilitation area to all visitors

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Much of SeaWorld Orlando’s rescue and rehabilitation work is housed beyond the theme park in a 5-acre Rescue Center that is not part of most visitors’ daily experience. However, that is changing with the company’s new focus on showing how it helps animals in need. One of the first steps in SeaWorld’s campaign to “turn the park inside out” is the opening of the Manatee Rehabilitation area this past week.

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Recuperating manatees have been housed in a natural-looking pool behind Turtle Trek for years. Visitors walk down ramps to enter the attraction and once inside, they have floor-to-ceiling underwater viewing of the manatees. When visitors exit the attraction, they can observe the huge sea cows from the surface of the pools. On Wednesday – Manatee Appreciation Day – the sea cows could be seen gliding through the water and surfacing periodically to eat the lettuce a SeaWorld team member was tossing into the pool. (Manatees can stay underwater, but must come to surface to breathe because they are mammals.) There even were adorable baby manatees that had been orphaned in the pool.

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“All the manatees here at SeaWorld are rescued animals,” said John “J.P.” Peterson, supervisor of animal care at SeaWorld Orlando. “There’s a moratorium on breeding, so no one breeds manatees in captivity.”

The new Manatee Rehabilitation area connects the manatee pool outside Turtle Trek with two medical pools that have long been part of the Rescue Center. (Guests who pay an extra charge for a behind-the-scenes tour have been able to see the center, which previously included the pools. The cost for the tour is $29 for adults and $9 for children ages 3 to 9. The tour still exists, but the medical pools are open now to all regular SeaWorld visitors. For more about the behind-the-scenes tour, see my previous blog post.)

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“This new opportunity that our guests have actually allows them to not just see the manatees that are getting better and are almost ready to be returned, but we are allowing you to come back to our rehabilitation pools,” Peterson, who can be seen on ABC’s "Sea Rescue," said. “These animals might have come in a day ago or week ago or they might be a long-term-care animal that we’re having to work with. This allows our guests to come up and watch us work with them, understand them, and know the plight of these animals. Also, it shows what SeaWorld and the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) are doing together to help these animals.”

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Of the two rehabilitation pools, one has a false bottom, which allows the SeaWorld staff members to easily lower and raise the manatees for medical care. Right now, two manatees inhabit that pool: Trooper and TM1606.

“These manatees typically require a little more care. One in here has some signs of cold stress, which essentially is like hypothermia in humans. They become kind of lethargic, they might stop eating or get some infections,” said Mariana, who is with SeaWorld’s education team. “The other one, Trooper, wasn’t eating the way he should have so he lost a lot of weight. Because of that, we needed to monitor them more closely.”

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The new walkway and patio between the pools features displays that list dangers to manatees in the wild; solutions that all beachgoers and boaters can implement; and how to correctly dispose of fishing lines so they will not become a hazard to marine animals. There also are videos telling the stories of the rescued animals and even one of the park’s rescue vehicles used to transport injured animals is parked nearby.

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SeaWorld has rescued nine manatees so far this year and has returned 12, Peterson said. “Last year’s animals we were able to get out to warm areas during the cold seasons so they can learn their migration routes. The animals coming in this year, hopefully we can get them turned around and back out even quicker. Our entire goal is to rescue these animals, rehabilitate these animals and return them.”

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of SeaWorld Orlando for the opening of its Manatee Rehabilitation area. My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my story.



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July 20, 2013

SeaWorld Orlando releases 4 rehabilitated manatees at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

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On Thursday, my 8-year-old daughter and I felt like we had stepped onto the set of the television show "Sea Rescue" when we witnessed a SeaWorld Orlando team release four rehabilitated manatees into the wild.

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Although many people know that SeaWorld entertains and educates people through its theme parks, another goal of the company is to rescue and help ill, injured or orphaned marine animals. And that's where these special manatees come in. Three of the sea cows -- Pipsqueak, Nitty and Braille -- were rescued at different times last December after becoming trapped in a mosquito impound in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. They were suffering from mild cold stress, which is similar to frostbite in humans.

The fourth manatee, Asaka, was brought to SeaWorld by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) in March after rangers found she had buoyancy issues and needed treatment for wounds caused by a boat's propeller and skeg.

For the SeaWorld team, rehabilitating marine animals is a labor of love, and it's also labor-intensive.

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Pedro Ramos-Navarrette (right)

"It takes a lot of work " especially if they're orphans, it's 24/7," said Pedro Ramos-Navarrette, superviser of Animal Care at SeaWorld Orlando. "We do bottle-feeding every four hours, so we've got crews that are in from 3 a.m. for the first bottles and some stay as late as midnight to do the last bottles. Sometimes you have to tube-feed them because the animals are dehydrated. Some need antibiotics that are prescribed by our veterinary staff."

For this quartet, the work paid off. Ramos-Navarrette said, "They've responded very well to the treatment. All four animals have put on weight -- we weighed them again this morning -- and their exit weights show they have gained anywhere from 65 to 220 pounds [each]." Each manatee now weighs more than 400 pounds.

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Typically, once SeaWorld's veterinary staff clears an animal for its return to a natural habitat, it's up to the FWC to schedule the time and place for the release. This time, the agency chose Eddy Creek, which is located in Mosquito Lagoon along the Canaveral National Seashore near Kennedy Space Center. It's part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where the manatees originally were rescued.

"Usually [they] try to find an area close to or in the same water system that [the animals] came from because it's a known area to them for food availability. It's just more familiar territory," said Ramos-Navarrette, who has worked at SeaWorld for 23 years.

The nearby Indian River Lagoon, which runs along 40 percent of Florida's east coast, has come under scientific scrutiny this year because a record number of manatees, dolphins and pelicans living there have been found dead -- and no one knows why. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated the manatee deaths an Unusual Mortality Event, clearing the way for help from the federal government in determining the cause.

The puzzling and potentially dangerous phenomenon in the Indian River Lagoon shows just how important SeaWorld's mission can be for marine wildlife.

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Like other animals SeaWorld has rescued, Pipsqueak, Nitty, Braille and Asaka have been implanted with chips so they can be identified if they have to be rescued again.

"If we see them again, it means it's because they're in trouble again, so we really don't want to see them again," said Ramos-Navarrette.

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Before their release, the manatees traveled two-by-two in trucks from SeaWorld to Eddy River, and then each was carried to the shore on a stretcher manned by eight people. After some last measurements were taken, it was time for the final farewell. All four manatees were carried to the water simultaneously and allowed to swim out into the river. A couple stayed in the area for the next hour, surfacing occasionally, presumably reacquainting themselves with their former home.

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Ramos-Navarrette said the release was bittersweet. "You've gotten this animal that was at death's doorstep " healthy again and you send him back out. " This is the good part of the job when we get to put them back out."

For my 8-year-old daughter, who plans to one day be a marine biologist (and dolphin trainer!) this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a release up close. She said, "I loved seeing the manatees up close, and I really wanted to pet one. It looked a lot like the 'Sea Rescue' show when they used the stretchers to take them to the water. I was surprised they didn't use their boat named Moose."

She wants other kids to know they can help protect marine animals by taking simple steps. "People shouldn't litter on the beaches and the ocean because the manatees and dolphins can get hurt. Manatees are friendly and fat. They need our help."

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About SeaWorld Rescue Team

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the SeaWorld Rescue Team category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Sea Lions Tonight is the previous category.

SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.