Manatee Rehabilitation opened this week next to the existing Manatee Rescue area of the park and allows guests into one of the backstage sections that takes care of injured or sick animals before they can be returned to the ocean.
“Inspiring stories of rescue and rehabilitation” is the sub-title of the exhibit, which opens a valuable window into what happens when SeaWorld’s ‘Rescue Truck’ gets called into action for a stricken manatee anywhere off the Florida coast.
Mike Boos, VP of Zoological Operations, told us: “Previously, if you wanted to see what happened on a rescue, rehabilitation or the return of a manatee, you had to take a special 90-minute backstage tour, so we wanted to take some of these cool programmes that people may not be aware of and open them up to park guests. The signature animal that we feel we have made a huge impact with is the manatee. We have been involved with them for more than 40 years and have rescued more than 540 manatees in our history, so getting people back here into this new area is an extraordinary opportunity to show the great work that our team does every day.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we want to do this?’, because we want to keep it real. We could easily just put up video screens on the existing area that show what’s going on back here, but we don’t want to be all video. We decided we wanted to open this area up as well, so we kind of combined the two things and that’s where we are today, with a new pathway back from the Manatee Rescue area, new monitors and new aesthetics.
“The first pool that visitors see is the Critical Care pool, where you can walk up and see the manatees currently under treatment. It has a white floor with slats in it, which can actually be lifted up in 30 seconds so every animal can be brought up for treatment without having to bring a crane in, which is more stressful for them. These animals are all here for treatment for things like cold stress – like frostbite for manatees – or a boat strike.
“Once the animals transition to more of a release status, we then put them in the other pool here. If they just need to gain weight, they can go in here for a number of months, or even several years. Orphans typically take about five years before they are big enough to be released. After we feel the manatee is back to the stage where it is fully healthy, we work with our government officials to decide if they’re ready for release. If everyone agrees, then we determine a good release site and date, and our job is done.”
The new area is definitely a wonderful addition to the SeaWorld scene, highlighting the care, attention and dedication of their animal rescue programmes, as well as outlining the environmental issues still facing manatees in the wild. We have done numerous backstage tours at the park in the past, and it is great to see some of these ‘hidden’ areas being brought into full view for guests to enjoy. We’re not the only ones who are excited, though!
Supervisor of Animal Care, J.P. (just ‘J.P.’, “He hates when anyone calls him by his real name of John Peterson,” we were told) gave us some more insight when he explained: “This step the company took by opening this up is so exciting. I am ecstatic about it. This is going to allow our guests to actually see what we do. We can also explain why, when we’re out there rescuing an animal, we can say ‘Don’t do this,’ or ‘Don’t do that,’ because now they will be right next to us and can understand the consequences of some of those actions. When you can also get this close to an animal you are caring for, there is no way it can’t touch your heart. It does for mine, and I’ve been doing rescues for the past 20 years. The goal here is that our guests will be able to come over and feel the exact same thing.”
So, are you ready to have your heart-strings pulled by some of Florida’s oldest ‘residents’? Hurry on over to SeaWorld and check out the new rehab area. And be sure to join us on the ATD discussion forum with your guess as to the weight of SeaWorld’s largest manatee.
If you have questions about Orlando’s theme parks – or anything else about the wonders of Florida – be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon on the ATD forums.
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